Review: Wayne McGregor | Random Dance - Atomos - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 9 - 12 October 2013
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Friday 11 October 2013

Wayne McGregor|Random Dance 'Atomos' Photo: Bettina Strenske

The general feel of Atomos is quiet and meditative. Music played live by A Winged Victory For The Sullen, a collaboration between Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Bryanbaum is pervasive and ambient. Visuals are muted, with Lucy Carter’s lighting creating graphs in pink, blue or green washes on the stage. Not so much the adrenalin hit of some of Random’s previous works, Atomos is reflective and more introverted in its delivery.

Wayne McGregor’s dancers explore their physical parameters with the concentration of scientists working on some ground-breaking experiment. Dressed in sporty and technology- inspired costumes by Studio XO, they convey the life cycles of atoms; splitting, dispersing, clustering, renewing. As they dance in solos or duets, they seem to be pushing against the weight of the air around them, resisting then becoming it. Tense, awkward looking movement morphs into a liquid fluidity that is characteristic of McGregor’s style. Hyper extended limbs or spines which make the human body resemble a distorted alien at one moment melt into a soft, graceful balletic pose the next. Feet or hands which are angularly turned in, turn out abruptly into recognisable dance positions. Throughout there’s a constant flirtation with ballet vocabulary, intricate travelling steps and turns that normalise the choreography, make it less extraordinary, but humanise the performers.

What is particularly eye-catching are the dancers’ arms, which are engaged as actively as their legs, constantly churning out shapes, cutting through the space, pushing other bodies away. With a life of their own, they win the prize for most expressive body parts.

There’s a satisfying section at the beginning of Atomos, in which the performers cluster in a square of warm light, squirming, reaching, recoiling. From this point they go on their own separate trajectories but constantly re-group, reminding us about the repetitive nature of atoms and the vast infinity they create.
While the dancers are impressive in their technical ability, when the montage of screens descends from the ceiling and we put on our 3D classes to enjoy a hypnotically visual ride, it’s hard to remember to look at them. Dots slowly zoom out of the monitors towards us, filling the rectangular shapes before becoming tiny dots again. Different combinations of particles appear, form shapes, then go. Explosions erupt on the screens and images of what look like atomic plants flash up then disappear. Ravi Deepres’ riveting footage reminds us of human vulnerability in the face of scientific experimentation.

I like the fact that the dancers just blend into the visual ocean, but after a while the choreography becomes too monotonous; predictable and unremarkable. Conventional movement choices, such as lifts in which a woman is carried by her male partner with her head thrown back show the limitations of dance in the face of cutting-edge technology and science. I do feel that McGregor’s research and the concepts he works with are more impressive than what we actually see on stage.

At Sadler’s Wells until Saturday – very limited availability only

Also see:
Thinking with the body: mind and movement in the work of Wayne McGregor | Random Dance
FREE. Open daily 10am – 6pm, (til 10pm Thursdays) except Mondays -until 27 October

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider

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