Blinding with science comes to mind in Autobiography, choreographed by Wayne McGregor. Startling dance, breath-taking in its precision and complexity this piece, inspired by the structure of the human genome and specifically McGregor's own, is almost impenetrable in meaning.
Seductive and shiny, but not to be caught.
McGregor is known for his exploration of other disciplines. In 2017 McGregor's entire genome was sequenced and the twenty three pairs of chromosomes that contain the human genome are reflected in the dance. Randomised by an algorithm, a new combination of the twenty three is played at each performance, so no two are totally the same. One sees the continued influence of Merce Cunningham and his fascination with unpredictability.
This is not an autobiography of event and character, though inspired by a family history of twins, memories, objects and influences. The dance itself is fractured, a multi-texture stream of consciousness no doubt influenced by his research for his 2015 piece Woolf Works inspired by Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. Frenetic action full of extensions which rise and fall, and couples who come together only to move on are followed by slower, more meditative pieces but the meaning of both elusive. The surtitles do not help and might even be interchangeable, though 13 Not I suggests the multiplicity of selves that we all are, made up of changing sense impressions. There is, however, a moving male duet, one cradling the other with an intimacy and tenderness not shown before in McGregor's work.
Set, lighting and sound all meld beautifully together with the dance. Ben Cullen Williams's hanging metallic geometric shapes similar to Crick's molecular structures are raised or lowered, creating strikingly different spaces. Lucy Carter's lighting design is also superb including a laser, its sculptured beam raking the audience. At times the light is blinding, the dancers reduced to silhouettes - or they appear in a smoky gloom. The avant garde electronic music by Jlin is equally stunning and continuously varied, with its rhythmic beat overlaid with other composers such as Max Richter, most memorably, the surprise of a piece by Corelli.
The best thing to do is let the piece flow over one and become transported without worrying too much about what it means. It is clear that McGregor's protean, mercurial imagination is seductive but not to be caught.
What does it mean to write your own life story?
Trailblazing choreographer and director Wayne McGregor has been radically redefining dance in the modern era with his own company, at The Royal Ballet where he has been Resident Choreographer since 2006, and internationally. He has an unmistakable visual style that pushes the body to ever greater virtuosity.
For 25 years McGregor has been making choreography that interrogates life through the experience of the body, moving intelligently in space and time. His practice is far-reaching and seeks out collaborators from a diverse range of artistic and scientific fields. Now, he turns his attention to the body as archive, with a work illuminated by the sequencing of his own genome.
Autobiography is a deeply personal show for the ten dancers of Company Wayne McGregor, with body-shaking electronic beats and immersive lighting, creating dance that is startling in its power and grandeur, yet bewitching in its nuances.
Collaborating with scientists from the Wellcome Trust, McGregor has sequenced his own genome, sampling the mass of data to determine the order of Autobiography’s spellbinding tableaux. Every performance of Autobiography is unique, an experience for dancers and audience alike that’s never again repeated.
Tackling profound themes of memory, ageing, sleep, past and future, Autobiography is mesmerising, multi-layered and mysteriously beautiful. It features original music from former steel mill worker Jlin colliding industrial sounds and gripping dance rhythms, dynamic set design and projection by Ben Cullen Williams, multi-layered costume design by Aitor Throup complementing the dramaturgy by writer Uzma Hameed, and stage-drenching lighting by award-winning designer Lucy Carter. The performance order of the dance pieces is assembled in a unique order by software architect Nick Rothwell.
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Wayne McGregor Concept, director and choreographer, in collaboration with the dancers
Ben Cullen Williams Set designer and projection
Lucy Carter Lighting designer
Aitor Throup Costume designer
Uzma Hameed Dramaturgy
Co-produced by Studio Wayne McGregor; Sadler’s Wells, London, UK; Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg; Edinburgh International Festival, UK; Festspielhaus St Pölten, Austria; Carolina Performing Arts at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA; Movimentos Festwochen der Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany
Co-commissioned by West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong; Festival Diaghilev. P.S., St Petersburg, Russia; Centro Cultural Vila Flor, Guimaraes, Portugal; Seattle Theatre Group, USA (music); Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, UK.
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