Wayne McGregor is at the very top of his game, as two world premieres and a west coast premiere showed In Los Angeles this weekend. It’s hard to be definitive about a career, the ups and downs, the energy of the creator, and who knows what’s next.
But McGregor’s body of work for so many different dance companies and his continuing experimentation with his own company and the Royal Ballet in London has raised everybody’s game. McGregor is not only ambitious and experimental, he absorbs content from the world around him which informs his choreography.
Outlier, a piece he originally choreographed for the Architecture and Dance Festival 2010 at the New York City Ballet and which struck me then, found new notes with the addition of celebrated violinist Leila Josefowicz in the pit. McGregor is an architecture buff, and was inspired originally by the New York State Theater (I still call it that. I’m a refusnik when it comes to David Koch) designed by Philip Johnson (also under a cloud these days for his fascist sympathies during the war). But the Dorothy Chandler is another sixties theater, all of them looking better and better these days, the wood walls and gold paneled ceiling, so very mid-century. Outlier is anything but mid-century, however, with it’s contemporary score by Thomas Ades—with whom this entire evening was a collaboration. This time around, the piece reminded me a bit of Glass Pieces, the Jerome Robbins ballet set to Philip Glass, but as McGregor states, “it is full of irregularities and unexpected events…” both in its score and choreography. Many of the dancers have gone white blonde, very cool.
Living Archive is set to another Ades piece commissioned by the LA Phil called In Seven Days, and it also found new life with the addition of the marvelous AI video install by Ben Cullen Williams. Having spent the day dealing with a tech breakdown, all the coding in the video backdrop was at first threatening but gradually came to look like a Marlene Dumas watercolor. McGregor has collaborated with Google Arts and Culture ( I’ve always imagined this is Google trying to keep out of the cross hairs of the EU) and developed a program which can anticipate possible choices for choreographic steps. I don’t actually think McGregor needs this tool, as he seems to have ample steps at his disposal, but as an archive of his work it must be fascinating to examine.
Finally—well, not finally—but first and foremost was the world premiere of Part 1 The Dante Project, again with a score by Ades (this time much more classical, with echoes of everything from Bernstein to Stravinsky to Ravel to Tchaikovsky). Dante finds himself in an underworld I’d be happy to be relegated to, as it’s confected by Tacita Dean who has outdone herself with clouds, glacier-like in wavelike formations topped by an oval James Turrellian opening from which we can see the sky above. It’s so wow I don’t know where to begin. The Royal Ballet dancers have never before been so challenged. The torqued bodies, the complex pas de deuxs, the athleticism, the sensuousness--they must all be in constant physical therapy. McGregor demands much and nothing is hidden in Dean’s bodysuits for them as they rock, roll, tumble, and intersect with each other, sometimes druids, sometimes slimy underworld gremlins, sometimes dervishes, sometimes acrobats, sometimes cyborgs. As usual, McGregor makes no gender differentials: males and females are asked to do almost the same intricate feats of body manipulation, but in the underworld, nothing seems too over the top. I had only a little trouble with Virgil, who accompanies Dante and does not have much to do.
LA should be very proud that McGregor chose to premiere this piece here, and all thanks once again to Glorya Kaufman whose ongoing support of dance in Los Angeles is to her credit with our continued appreciation.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Mann