UK choreographer Wayne McGregor was back with his company Random Dance four years after DanceHouse first presented his Entity at the Playhouse. This weekend, to open their seventh season, DanceHouse presented FAR; the title is an acronym for Roy Porter's Flesh in the Age of Reason, a history of Enlightenment-era investigations into the connections between the mind and the body. Right up McGregor's alley, who has frequently collaborated with cognitive and neuro-scientists, and whose distinctive movement vocabulary is all about short circuiting the standard proprioceptive impulses sent between brain and body.
FAR is full of McGregor's trademark moves: arms and legs jerking and twitching; ribs jutting out from the torso; limbs extended at awkward angles or tilted away from the body's natural centre of gravity; lightning quick changes of direction. However, the piece begins and ends with two fairly traditional duets. In the first, a couple dances to Cecilia Bartoli's rending take on Giacomelli's aria "Sposa son disprezzata" (the same lament that plays in the episode of The Sopranos when Carmela is shown touring the Met after learning of Tony's infidelity). The dancers are surrounded by four torch bearers, and we might be forgiven for thinking we were being transported back to the late 17th century.
However, when following this prelude we start hearing Ben Frost's industrial music and the 3,200 LED lights on the giant circuit board that comprises the set's backdrop start pulsating, we know we are firmly in the here and now--or else some soon to unfold future of total sensory stimulation. In this world, bodies strut and pose and collide, fitting their bodies together in ways that at first seem strange and decidedly awkward, but that have the paradoxical effect of highlighting the dancers' incredible technique. Indeed, for all of McGregor's circumambulation in finding new pathways into a move, once there the dancers' lines remain gorgeous to behold.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the abundant partnering that provides the structural through-line to the piece. Dancers race aggressively toward each other, or else tear one another from existing group formations; but faced with the new idea of how to work together they set about solving the problem in endlessly inventive--and thoroughly supportive--variations. The closing duet is downright tender.
It was interesting watching Random Dance in FAR after having seen Ballet Preljocaj's Empty Moves. Although their styles and produced works couldn't be more different, both McGregor and Preljocaj are deconstructionist choreographers who understand that to take something apart (i.e. ballet) you first need to know how it works.