Wayne Mcgregor | Random Dance
Three World Premieres: Hertz, Alpha Episodes, Life’s Witness
London, Linbury Studio Theatre
It’s ten years since Wayne McGregor was approached by Deborah Bull to create an evening of collaborative works with the Royal ballet and his own company, Random Dance. In celebration of that anniversary, and of Random’s 20th birthday, McGregor has passed the torch on to three young choreographers associated with the company and with the ROH for a triple bill of new contemporary works; the results here are rather more mixed.
Alexander Whitley’s Hertz, an ensemble work for 8 of his Random colleagues, opens the programme. Pairs of dancers move in meditative looping patterns reminiscent of Tai-chi exercises, picked out by dim red and white lights; I’ll take on trust the choreographer’s word that the material is inspired by the physical waveforms of light. Dancers arc backwards, fold to the floor and unwind again with a hypnotic softness. Something of Rambert (where Whitley danced for six years) creeps into the stylish composition; Hertz is diverting and well-crafted but moments of almost-unison and missed contact in the contact duets betray too few hours spent in the studio.
Another Random dancer, Paolo Mangiola, offers us Alpha Episodes, a trio for three male dancers from the Royal Ballet. With gorgeous, sinewy, winding tableaux and the frankly astonishing physical form of Edward Watson, it’s the most exquisitely performed piece of the evening; little of the investigation into changing gender roles and the evolution of masculinity noted in the programme made its way onto stage, however. I enjoyed Mangiola’s movement style, melding the long lines of classical ballet with something more grounded and physical, but longed for more character to enliven this work.
Young Canadian choreographer Robert Binet, currently a Choreographic Apprentice at the Royal Ballet, threw the kitchen sink at his closing ensemble, Life’s Witness. Eight dancers from Random are joined on stage by a slick white set of curving benches, a string quartet and singer Melanie Pappenheim. If the performance of Whitley’s piece suggests a lack of time in the studio, here the problem seems to be one of space; groups of dancers appear rather crushed together on the forestage and I saw more than one anxious glance back towards the seated musicians and their perilous music stands. Life’s Witness brings its performers together in continually-evolving combinations at a relentless pace; I wished Binet had given his performers (and audience) more time and space to breathe.
McGregor’s influence is visible across the programme, not so much in the movement style but in the extreme formal abstraction of the work. A little form can go a long way, and these three choreographers kept their avowed inspirations deeply hidden within the work. There’s one further obvious connection between the three artists and their mentor – can it be coincidence alone that led to all the evening’s choreographers being male? It’s a question I’d like to see the ROH and its talent development programmes answer in the future.