21 September 2019

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Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography

7 February @ 8.00 pm - 10.00 pm

AED 105

Wayne McGregor CBE is a British choreographer and director, a multiple award winner noted over more than 25 years for innovations in performance that have contributed to a radical redefinition of dance and movement in modern times. The Financial Times called him “a pioneer in exploiting the links between his art, and the scientific development that have revolutionised 21st-century life”.

Autobiography represents something of a pinnacle, or at least an important way-station on that journey.

An autobiography, of course, is an account of one’s own life; Wayne McGregor has taken it literally, sampling the data from his genetic make-up to organise the structure of his latest work. In short – McGregor’s genes have been allowed to take control of the choreography.

In collaboration with scientists from the Wellcome Trust, McGregor arranged for his own genome to be sequenced as part of a research study. McGregor then developed a choreographic interpretation on 23 chapters in his life story to date.

Why 23? because it’s normal for each of us to have 23 pairs of chromosomes in our DNA. Each chapter is an abstract meditation on personal memories that have marked his personal development, from a school photo to a poem, a piece of art, and more.

Nick Rothwell then converted McGregor’s gene sequences into an algorithm, and that randomly selects the order of the sections in each performance (the beginning and end event are always the same, so it’s choosing from 21 of the chapters). The algorithm also determines which dancers will perform each piece. The result: a vast number of possible permutations, meaning that each performance is effectively a new world premiere.

Not for the first time, McGregor’s work has an impressive list of collaborators – notably the electronic musician and producer Jlin (aka Jerrilynn Patton), visual artist Ben Cullen-Williams (who has won awards for Autobiography‘s set design), and lighting designer Lucy Carter.
Most of the music is by Jlin, electronic music that samples white noise, found sound, and bells and whistles (really), interspersed with other pieces by artists such as Max Richter and Ryuichi Sakamoto. There’s also a nod to the long-distant past in the shape of Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in D Major.

Of course the soundtrack meshes tightly with the choreography, but the lighting and the set are also intrinsically connected. A grid of metal lights hovers over the stage from the beginning, sometimes descending with dancers moving low beneath the structure. At other times they inhabit a black stage plunged into a soft haze, the kind that suggests faraway memories. Lucy Carter’s lighting generally relies on naked white lights varying from almost blinding through milky to dim blue/violet.

As for the dancing – well, the view of the Guardian was that “there’s a new expressive subtlety to McGregor’s choreography’ and the dancing is “mesmerisingly good … By cutting back on the spectacular, McGregor makes it easier for us to appreciate the care with which he positions his dancers in time and space”.

You don’t actually need to know the DNA background to appreciate the show itself, of course, but throughout Autobiography you’ll feel you are watching life in its infinite variety of moods, feelings, thoughts, in fleeting moments never to be repeated.

Autobiography by Company Wayne McGregor plays The Red Theatre on Thursday 7 February and Friday 8 February at 8pm. Tickets are the NYAUD’s standard AED 100 plus VAT, which is a real bargain for work of this quality and creativity.


7 February
8.00 pm - 10.00 pm
AED 105
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