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- Wayne McGregor's career as a choreographer has been experimental and Innovative. This essay is an overview of his career so far as a choreographer, looking mainly at his work as Artistic director of Random Dance, Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet and his interests in Technology and Science. The essay begins with a brief biography of McGregor's career and goes on to show his collaborations and choreographic works and finally analyzes what makes him unique as a choreographer.
Wayne McGregor was born in the year 1970 in Stockport, England. He studied dance at Bretton Hall College which was at The University of Leeds and he then went on to study at the José Limon School in New York. In the year 1992 McGregor was appointed choreographer in residence at The Place, London and in that same year he founded his own dance company known as Wayne McGregor | Random Dance which was invited to become the resident company at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London in the Year 2002. In 2004 Wayne McGregor was appointed Artist-in-Residence at the University of Cambridge at the Department of Experimental Psychology. (www.randomdance.com)
In the year 2006, Wayne McGregor was appointed as the Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet. This was a great achievement as he was the first Modern Dance choreographer with no ballet training to be given this role at the Company. In 2009 McGregor premiered his production of the Opera, Dido and Aeneas at the Royal Opera House, London, this was his Opera debut. His newest choreographic works are Outlier, which was premiered this year by the New York City Ballet on May 14th and Yantra, premiered by Stuttgart Ballet on the 7th of July this year. (www.randomdance.com)
Wayne McGregor's company Random Dance premiered Xeno 1 2 3 at The Place, London in January of the year 1993, this was their debut as a company. Throughout the 1990's Wayne McGregor and Random Dance continued to develop the company with choreographic works such as AnArkos 1995, 8 legs of the Devil 1996, The Millennarium 1997 and Sulphur 16 1998. Wayne McGregor's interest in technology developed and his choreographic works from the year 2000 onwards really reflected this with performances such as Aeon 2000, digit01 2001, PreSentient 2002, Polar Sequences 2003 and Qualia 2004. (www.randomdance.com)
Wayne McGregor has a great interest in science which greatly influenced his choreography in 2004. During his time at the University of Cambridge where he had a fellowship for six months at their Department of Experimental Psychology, he started to research a condition called Ataxia. . (www.randomdance.com)
The word ataxia means without coordination. People with ataxia have problems with coordination because parts of the nervous system that control movement and balance are affected. Ataxia may affect the fingers, hands, arms, legs, body, speech, and eye movements. The word ataxia is often used to describe a symptom of incoordination which can be associated with infections, injuries, other diseases, or degenerative changes in the central nervous system. (www.ataxia.org)
At the Department of Experimental Psychology, McGregor worked with scientists who had interests in areas such as object recognition and spatial processing, movement analyses, cognitive dimensions of notation, and relationships between representation and self. ( Kupper, 2007, p.178)
After his research Wayne McGregor choreographed Ataxia, the performance was designed with the help of his experiences with neuroscientists; his company of professionally trained dancers, along with the help of a person experiencing an ataxic movement disorder, her name was Sarah Seddon Jenner. ( Kupper, 2007, p.178)
McGregor uses lighting effects to add to the choreography and bring it to life as he does in many of his choreographic pieces. In a review of Ataxia for The Guardian, Judith Mackrell says
'In Wayne McGregor's latest work there is a moment, in the middle, when the stage seems to dissolve into an electric brain storm. Pulsing currents of brightly coloured light stream in disorienting patterns around the space. The music judders and strains as if several clashing scores were being played at the same time.' (Mackrell, 2004)
In 2005 McGregor continued to use science as a tool of exploration for his choreography for the piece Amu. He worked with heart imaging specialists for this piece, along with artistic collaborators. They wished to question both physical functions and symbolic resonances of the human heart. (www.randomdance.org)
In a review of Amu in The Sunday Times, Debra Craine says
'If you thought about it too much it could haunt you. Each minute of every day, through a complex web of arteries, your heart is pumping the body's lifeblood. It's a fact of nature that we take for granted but it's something that the choreographer Wayne McGregor and the composer John Tavener want us to think about. Their fascinating new collaboration Amu (Arabic for "of the heart") is all about the organ, seeing it through McGregor's embrace of science and Tavener's famous spiritualism.' (Craine, 2005)
McGregor's concepts for choreography include technology as well as science, a good example of this would be Entity which was premiered by Wayne McGregor | Random Dance at Sadlers Wells Theatre in London on April 10th 2008. Entity incorporated technology, with the use of a soundscape which was an hour long, created by Jon Hopkins and Joby Talbot. It incorporated the use of video; the video design was created by Ravi Deepres. (www.randomdance.org)
The choreography was initiated from McGregor's "Choreography and Cognition" research project which is a collaboration with scientists of Neurology and Psychology. (www.randomdance.org) The choreography was described by Gia Kourlas of the New York Times when he said,
'Wayne McGregor's Entity begins and ends with a video of a greyhound seeming to run in place. The reference is significant: as entities, these slim animals are at once refined and fidgety, highly flexible and, of course, able to devour space at great speed. For Mr. McGregor, those are key physical ingredients that his dancers, also entities, must possess to have a solid grasp of his movement. In this world of glossy distortion, there isn't a place for hazy shapes.' (Kourlas, 2010)
After the success of his choreography for Chroma performed The Royal Ballet in 2006, Wayne McGregor was given the job as Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet. In 2008 audiences saw another great choreographic piece by McGregor which showed his innovative use of technology and lighting to make his choreography unique, this performance was called Infra and premiered at The Royal Opera House, London March 13th 2008. (www.randomdance.org)
McGregor collaborated with many people while developing and choreographing Infra. Wayne worked with Monica Mason, Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet. He commissioned a British artist called Julian Opie to collaborate with him and create a visual set to add to the piece. For the music Wayne collaborated with cult composer Max Richter to create a unique soundscape to accompany the choreography. The choreologist for Infra was Darren Parish who recorded Wayne's choreography in rehearsals with the use of Bensch Notatation. (BBC Documentary)
The producer was Will Harding, the lighting designer that worked closely with Wayne McGregor was Lucy Carter and the costume designer was Moritz Junge. The artist Julian Opie that worked on the set design had never designed for the theatre before. Opie had created screen lights, which showed the silhouettes' of a male stick figure and a female stick figure in light, these are in Dublin on O'Connell's Street. While researching for his set design for Infra Opie observed people walking along the streets and how they moved like choreography. (BBC Documentary)
The music created by Max Richter was created on a synthesiser and Wayne's choreography was created before the music as this is the way McGregor worked on this particular choreography. The performance was twenty five minutes long and cast included twelve dancers plus a cast of fifty extras that were included in the choreography.
The process of creating Infra from the very beginning to the premier performance on opening night was filmed by the BBC for a documentary. The documentary gave great publicity for Wayne McGregor and Infra and he won South Bank Show award for Infra in 2009. . (BBC Documentary) (www.randomdance.org)
In an interview by Sarah Crompton for The Telegraph, Wayne McGregor talks to her about the process of his collaboration for Infra with Julian Opie, McGregor explains:
"We both feel that the body can never really be abstract but he feels that there is a difference between a functional action" - he jumps up to demonstrate raising an arm, tying a shoe - "and a pose. A pose for him is something that can't be connected to meaning in a really exact way and I found that really interesting. So what we have done is worked with this absolute physicality and, at the other end, a kind of language which is oppositional to that." (McGregor Wayne, citied in Crompton 2008)
In a review of Infra by Debra Craine for The Times, she gives her opinion on what strikes her about the performance, she says:
'The first thing that strikes you about Infra is Julian Opie's set. His evocative figures, drawn in outline on a giant LED screen, move back and forth high across the stage, like busy London commuters. Underneath are the live dancers, the inner manifestation of the outer world above. Their memories, fears, dreams and desires are being lived out in the intimacy of their own heads. McGregor's movement may still be a full-body workout (undulating torsos, limbs constantly in motion, muscles yearning to exceed their limits) but it speaks as strongly of compassion and anger, of happiness and anxiety, tenderness and tears.' (Craine, 2008)
Wayne McGregor's appointment as resident choreographer for The Royal Ballet, was a great achievement, he continues creating choreographic pieces for his company Random Dance, while choreographing for The Royal Ballet. But does he work in a different way with the dancers in his company than he does with the Royal Ballet. During the rehearsals for Limen in 2009, Emma Crichton-Miller talked to Wayne McGregor about his creative approach and the development of his new work.
She asks him: 'Do you work in a different way with your own company Wayne McGregor | Random Dance than you do with The Royal Ballet?'
To which Wayne Explains:
'In every new piece I create the process is different as the individuals in the studio (whatever the company) have their own direct effect on the choreography. That is one of the great motivators of working deeply with both companies; the individuals within them are incredibly inspiring. Equally, there are differences in the circumstances of making. At Random I have the dancers all day for many weeks at a time, exclusively. Their priority is dancing only my work and our collaborative journey together reflects this singular commitment. At The Royal Ballet I can't have the dancers exclusively, and they're doing lots of other repertory simultaneously, so the demands they place on their bodies in a day are different and how I use their precious time is tempered accordingly. Both circumstances, each with their own innate challenges, nurture me in distinctive but highly complementary ways.'