Wayne McGregor goes far thanks to Dance East
Leading choreographer Wayne McGregor heads one of Europe's cutting-edge dance companies and finds time to choreograph the Harry Potter films and Radiohead videos. ANDREW CLARKE spoke to him ahead of the staging of his latest work in the region.
Wayne McGregor talks quickly and passionately — rather like the way he dances. He is a man who loves to redefine what is seen as dance. He loves drama. He loves sound and colour. He has also conducted a life-long affair with technology. He loves to incorporate technology into his work. He is always seeking to push back the boundaries.
This on-going love affair with dance and technology has seen Wayne venture ever further into the world of multi-media presentations where light shows, strange electronic sounds and projected moving images form an integral part of the choreography along with the movements of the dancers.
His latest production FAR, being staging this weekend at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall as part of the annual Snape Dances season, which draws dance lovers from across the region, distils many of his career-long obsessions into one epic performance.
Ten incredible dancers re-create the feeling of the 18th century's Age of Enlightenment, performing a lyrical, energetic series of sensual distortions, set to a new, haunting score by the critically-acclaimed composer Ben Frost.
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For Wayne, this is an opportunity to explore a new dance landscape while re-visiting some of the themes that con-tinue to occupy his mind.
'The themes and obsessions that have characterised my work over the last decade I suppose you categorise as use of the body, how the body works, use of technology and connecting the disembodied mind to the physical performance,' he says.
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'My latest piece is called FAR. It's cut from similar cloth to a piece called Entity which we brought to Snape several years ago now but although it shares several themes, visually it's quite different.'
The evening is based on a book by Roy Porter called Flesh In The Age of Reason — a study of the ways that The Age of Enlightenment affected the way society viewed the human body.
For Wayne it's the perfect opportunity to meld the strong physicality of his choreography with some cutting edge technology.
'It's a beautifully physical performance, it's quite emotional and features an amazing set which features 3,000 LEDs mounted on a huge screen which creates great shadows. It is an amazingly intelligent lighting system. It thinks for itself. It responds to music – you can talk to it and it responds – it really is an incredible thing.'
He said that he can recognise kindred spirits in the men, who consumed with scientific curiosity, swept away a thousand years of myth and superstition and replaced it with science and research while retaining that sense of wonder.
'What attracted me to this era of The Age of Enlightenment is that this was the first time that they started perform-ing human autopsies. It was the first time that people started to understand what went on beneath the skin. They started producing those really detailed anatomical drawings which are still used today. And they were shocked to discover that men and women have the same number of ribs. They were shaken by this because they really did believe that Adam had given one of his ribs to Eve – that then leads into a very interesting re-articulation into the notion of God and how does religion relate to the body?
'I felt that these were really fascinating ideas to explore in dance.'
He added that this also dovetailed into his on-going work with scientists at Cambridge University which looks at how the brain manages physical actions as well as dealing with creative, abstract thoughts.
'The connection between mind and body has long been a fascination of mine anyway and the body/soul affiliation was what fascinated people during The Age of Enlightenment.
'Dancers are always obsessed with their bodies and if you are obsessed with your body then you want to know how it works and explore what it can do. And then you start to wonder about the articulation of the mind. How does the mind allow you to perform all these complex movements? How can you control what you do and then how can the mind allow you to carry out these complex co-ordinations in a creative way?'
He said that he remains incredibly impressed with the way that contemporary computer technology has melded with the body to create virtual action.
'Movement is very much physical thinking. Just as choreographers have obsessed over the years about the body, physiology and bio-mechanics I think it is just as important to look at the techniques we use to build ideas in the mind. Cognition is a very hot topic in science right now. Take the Wii for example, the signature of your body affects what happens on a screen. That's embodied technology and I think technology is getting closer and closer to this connection between the mind and how we control physical action.'
This is also reflected in the technology that controls their lighting for FAR. 'This light show in FAR is amazing and I think that it is not inconceivable that a couple of years down the road, technology could have more intelligence than humans. I think that it is a very interesting debate and that is where we like to site our choreography – in that we are helping to explore this new arena and fuel the debate on what is possible.
'Scientists are very interested in how we work with our minds to do things with our bodies. We know very little about the brain still. I met a guy once who spent his career trying to work out what is going on in the mind when you move your finger and how that differs from what is going on in the mind when you are merely thinking about moving your finger. That level of detail I find fascinating. When you are building choreography you build images in your mind and you hang on to those images.'
Wayne is a giant in the world of dance. He is one of the nation's leading contemporary dance choreographers — working with his own company Random Dance as well as resident choreographer of The Royal Ballet and research fellow at the Experimental Psychology department of Cambridge University. He also creates new work for La Scala, Milan, Paris Opera Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, New York City Ballet, Australian Ballet and English National Ballet.
And if that wasn't enough he was also choreographer for the Harry Potter films and has just completed the choreography for the latest Radiohead video.
But he is far more than a visiting performer to this region. He remains DanceEast's first and longest serving associate artist.
Using the resources of the Jerwood DanceHouse in Ipswich, he continues to use this region as a quiet retreat to create new work — but his relationship goes back much further than that.
Eighteen years ago when Wayne McGregor was a newly graduated dance professional, he struck up an important friendship with DanceEast's forerunner Suffolk Dance and with it dance facilitators Scilla Dyke and Jane Mooney.
Wayne continues to be hugely supportive of the work that DanceEast is doing with recruiting boys and young men into the world of dance. He is very keen on dance education for all but feels particularly pleased that boys have been encouraged to explore the full range of what dance has to offer.
'It's not just what is called the Billy Elliott factor it is the way that dance is taught now. It allows boys and young men to take ownership of what they do. It's not just going along to ballet or to contemporary dance classes – although that is valid too – but it allows young people to create the sort of dance that interests them and make it their own.
'That's what Strictly… does too. It shows people learning to dance, having fun with dance and putting their own stamp on it. It can only be good.
'I have worked with children and young people for a long time and that is something which is central to DanceEast's policy.'
He said that maintaining the relationship with DanceEast always seemed to be the right thing to do as both compa-nies benefited from the arrangement.
Wayne is in no doubt that the success of DanceEast is down to director Assis Carreiro who, he says, is an indomitable figure.
'Assis is incredibly passionate about her work. She believes that just because DanceEast is outside London doesn't mean that they shouldn't have access to world class dance.
'It is testament to her that she has that vision and she is not afraid to go and ask people to come and perform here. And she is very persuasive — you can't say no to Assis — well not easily anyway.'
n FAR by Wayne McGregor's Random Dance is being performed at Snape Maltings Concert Hall on March 18-19, �20-�8, under-18s �2 off, 01728 687110, www.danceeast.co.uk
DANCE OPEN DAY
From Glee to talent show successes like Flawless and Diversity, dance is perhaps more popular with young people right now than it has ever been.
Traditional dance classes incorporating ballet has always been popular — with parents anyway, if not with their children — but what's given dance a boost in recent years is its street sassiness. Taking in everything from hip hop moves to parkour moves that have been adopted by choreographers, dancing is almost cool.
Perfect timing then for DanceEast to be holding its latest Academy Open Day in Norwich at The Garage arts and performance centre in Chapelfield on March 26.
If you have the enthusiasm, commitment and potential to be a professional dancer then it's the place to be as the academy recruits for entry in September 2011
The DanceEast Academy is a Centre for Advanced Training in dance and offers young people with exceptional potential and talent, the opportunity to access high quality dance training. They are looking for enthusiastic, motivated young people aged 10-16 from the region, who have an interest in pursuing dance as a career.
No previous formal dance training is required although experienced dancers are also encouraged to apply. Means-tested grant funding is available for all successful applicants through the Department for Education's Music and Dance Scheme. The open days is free but places must be booked in advance on 01473 295230.