Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Science Of Dancing: Wayne McGregor’s Entity

Entity, choreographed by Wayne McGregor (Photo: Ravi Deepres)

Talk about a ‘Eureka!’ moment: A dance performance that is also a science experiment, the focus of study being the body in motion. Audiences, put your thinking caps on.

Entity is the name of the brain puzzle of a dance in question, and it is an entirely new choreographed creature, owing its genesis to the mind as much as the body.

Choreographed in 2008 by Wayne McGregor (choreographer-in-residence at the Royal Ballet in England, and represented by his 10-member strong Random Dance troop, the resident company of Sadler’s Wells in London), the hour-long piece concludes its month-long Canadian tour in Toronto tonight at Harbourfront Centre: Run to get a ticket.

The result of 10 years of scientific inquiry, Entity is a hybrid born of a question (What happens inside the brain when people dance?) and of a collective desire, by both the choreographer and the international cast of extraordinary dancers, for extreme movement exploration. This exploration is made even more complicated by the fact each dancer has a distinct stage personality and presence.

Limbs and torsos appear straight and sharp as the blade of a dissecting knife, but then unexpectedly melt, wobble and ping off in startling directions. Dancers command the stage in solos, duets, trios, quintets and larger group formations, devouring every fibre of kinetically charged space with their hyper-flexed, super-attenuated, motor-propelled bodies – the explosion of neuronal connections made physical.

Photo: Laurent Philippe
The science is a motivator more than a literal expression, even while Patrick Burnier’s abstract set design includes the Golden Ratio theory expressed algebraically on the floor. For those who have forgotten their mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one. (The things you learn reading a dance review.)

The movement experimentations look funky, not clinical, and largely because of an original electro pop-meets-classical score by Coldplay collaborator Jon Hopkins and Joby Talbot. The music provided the movement with its forward-motion drive and its pulsating rhythms; it also makes way for atmospheric interludes occurring when the dancers merge silently with a back-projected video design by Ravi Deepres showing black-and-white images of magnified skin cells and spores as well as dreamy sequences of the human body in slow motion.

Last year awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for his services to dance, and a past Fellow of Cambridge University’s Experimental Psychology Department, McGregor has made his international reputation on a willingness to experiment with multimedia in dance creation in addition to choreography “mined from a radical cognitive process,” to quote from his program notes.

His works are experiments and so must start with a problem. Entity’s is presented clearly and cleverly at the very start: A projected image of a running dog from Eadweard Muybridge’s famous Animal Locomotion series (a 19th century study of the mechanics of movement as captured on film) is juxtaposed with a headless, motionless fashion display mannequin lurking in the shadows, dressed in white sleeveless undershirt and black briefs (pared down costumes are also by Burnier).

Lucy Carter’s lighting design then goes stark white, stripping the stage clean of illusions and making it look antiseptically lab-like for the pulsating mass of dancers entering next, clothed like that mannequin, but also imitating the running dog – locomoting with no obvious end (or reason) in sight.

As the specimens in the petri dish of McGregor’s scientific imagination, the dancers concave their chests, jut their rib cages and yank their elbows upwards and out, making their bodies look at times like giant questions marks; they perfectly embody the questions being asked here: Why do we move? What happens when we do move? How does movement as performed by exquisitely trained dancers affect the spectator?

That last one’s easy: it blows the mind.

Class dismissed.

Deirdre Kelly is a journalist (The Globe and Mail) and internationally recognized dance critic. She is also the author of the national best-selling memoir, Paris Times Eight (Greystone Books/Douglas & McIntyre). Visit her website for more information, Her next book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, comes out later this year.

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