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Sydney Festival in association with Arts Projects Australia presents ENTITY from the Wayne McGregor/Random Dance at the Sydney Theatre.

The Australian Ballet performed Wayne McGregor’s DYAD, 1909 (the program CONCORD – December, 2009). I enjoyed it very much but thought that some of the intricacy of the choreography was beyond some of the classic dancer’s competency, that night. So I was very keen to see this work made on and for this collection of dancers. Dancers from his own company Random Dance. The recent screening on ABC television of the December 2009, UK Southbank arts documentary, looking intensely at the Wayne McGregor work, was also provocatively interesting.

In 2006 Wayne McGregor was appointed the Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet, the first modern dance maker to be given that the post in the company’s history. Mr McGregor’s company came into focus in the 1990’s and the defining features of his work were “the unique quality of his vocabulary. This had its origins in McGregor’s own long, lean and supple physique and in his body’s ability to register movement with peculiar sharpness and speed; at one extreme McGregor’s dancing was a jangle of tiny fractured angles, at the other it was a whirl of seemingly boneless fluidity.” Watching the documentary where Mr McGregor, in his process with dancers, demonstrates his ideas, is to gather the inkling of his creative impulses.

Alongside the physical impulses is also an intellectual fascination with science and technology and the connection between how the body and the mind interact: over the past ten years he and his company have been experimenting with cognitive scientists who study this interaction. Such was the ‘fascination’ that in 2002 it “led him to set up a research project entitled CHOREOGRAPHY and COGNITION with a team of neuroscientists; the project was backed by a fellowship at the Department of Experimental Psychology at Cambridge university.” His work beginning with AtaXia (2004) was the first integrated sign of this interest.

ENTITY created in 2010 continues these physical explorations. The permutations of solo and various group dynamics danced by the company over a very athletic sixty minute time frame gathers in impact slowly, the stamina of the company accompanied by a surging sound design jointly made by Joby Talbot and Jon Hopkins with visual set design ‘tricks’ using digital video design imagery by Ravi Deepres gradually draws one’s interest to a place of aesthetic appreciation and, maybe, surrender. “Part of the attraction to the work and by definition the repulsion for some is the actual physical vocabulary the dancers execute, with its often abrupt, distorted, torsioned movement that seems alien to the body.” Mr McGregor says in a quoted interview in the Festival program notes “…But dysfunctional, damaged traumatised bodies have always interested me a lot, precisely because they are not stereotyped.” And “Learning to understand the beauty of the “other” body language is something I consider very important to appreciating the work. For this you have to be open to a body misbehaving, a body not obeying the conventional rules of dancing and for some this is too far an aesthetic stretch.”

In truth, for me, the physical expression of the company was sometimes a vision of a company with determinedly ‘Cockeresque’ movement aesthetics (i.e. of the singer Joe Cocker, who incidentally has concert dates coming up in Sydney). A particular dancer, Antoine Vereecken, continually catching my eye and confirming this impression. Beside this unfamiliar persistence in shape dynamics from all the company throughout the work there were flashes of classic hand and feet finish and some more familiar echoes of the beauty line of dance as we have mostly experienced and embodied in our mind’s memory. Our usual inherited anticipation. It is then a matter of an individual’s attraction or repulsion and I experienced both, but gradually was seduced to place of appreciation if not liking.

The dance is abstract and at first remote in its patterns and it was ultimately the relentless action and the physical stamina of the choreography and the dancers that encouraged me to applaud with some satisfaction. Talking to contemporary dancers, afterwards, not all were enamoured of the work and some even downright forthright in their displeasure. I am not sophisticated enough in this area of art to enter the debates that I heard about me, except to admit that I cumulatively enjoyed the experience.

A true festival experience, then – argument and debate for and against the quality of the exploration and its dramaturgy.