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Entangled: Wayne McGregor/Random Dance.

Radical Movements

By Lynn Hasselbarth

Wayne McGregor/ Random Dance

EMPAC Theater, Feb. 27

When viewing the ferociously executed movement of the London-based company Wayne McGregor/Random Dance, one can’t help but feel energetically charged. There is an uncontainable force to the physicality and visual impact created by McGregor’s latest piece Entity. Performed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s EMPAC Theater last weekend, Entity is a fierce display of bodies yearning for resolution.

With a company of nine highly trained artists, McGregor is able to develop a style that is complex, nuanced and at its core, improvisational. Through a collectively driven choreographic process, McGregor invites his dancers to be intimately involved in their movement choices. However, the end product is cohesive and precise, with a kinetic style that is consistent throughout.

In the full-length piece Entity, the movement has a somewhat predatory quality. The dancers reflect animalistic behavior, stalking and hovering like deranged vultures. At other times, the movement reveals a reptilian quality of slithers and glares. The overall vocabulary is as articulate and methodical as ballet. However, unlike the latter’s preoccupation with symmetry and beauty, Entity is fraught with seemingly grotesque and disturbing bodily contortions.

The piece drives forward from one vignette to another, with neurotic couplings between the dancers. Bodies enter into one impulsive entanglement after another. In one particular trio, accompanied by a droning cello and violin arrangement, two men drag and propel a sinewy female dancer through the space.

Later, a duo pauses in a moment of stillness, with both figures locked together like a human straight jacket. While the interaction between the dancers appears dangerous and violent, there is a certain sweetness in their desperate attachment. The two stand suspended in what appears to be a sacred embrace, keeping each other away from the demands of their own path.

What makes McGregor’s choreography so dynamic and satisfying is his ability to isolate a subtle human exchange amid collective chaos. He does not aim to impress viewers solely by the complexity of movement. Instead, McGregor employs various visual arts, which draw viewers beyond the pure physicality of choreography.

In order to achieve a more layered experience, flashes of black-and-white images are displayed upon three horizontal canvases surrounding the stage. Each panel is attached to a heavy metal contraption, much like a steel crane, which rises and tilts on cue. The structures are not simply a background device to magnify the movement in the foreground. Instead, they are integral elements of the environment.

The most extensive video sequence features a collection of images that reinforce the primitive yearnings expressed by the dancers. One catches glimpses of various textures spread across the elevated canvas—the cratered surface of the moon, the patterned design of snake skin, the porous mounds of honeycomb and the cracked expanse of desert sand. The portrayal of natural environments complements the activity of the dancers, whose interactions are wildly untamed and instinctual.

The organic imagery is replaced by a more digital reality, as numbered equations rush across the wide panels. The musical score intensifies, with a static motorized sound interwoven with cello and piano. Three groups of dancers are arranged on the stage, each contained by intersecting geometric shapes projected onto the floor beneath them. Each dancer seems to be imprisoned within these angles, unable to solve their own internal equation.

As the manic quality of the dancers seems to reach an unbearable intensity, the accompanying score is released from its heavy droning base, leaving an ethereal stream of sound. The clarity evokes a sense of freedom apart from the enduring angst of the dancers. Beautifully timed with this sudden shift, the frantic graphics of mathematical symbols gradually morph into a flock of birds nearing formation.

While the piece continues to oscillate between unsolvable chaos and individual clarity, the uncompromised drive of the dancers seems to transcend any conflict between these seemingly opposite states. There is a distinct freedom expressed simply by observing the intensity of the production.

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