Wayne McGregor (1970) is a young multi-awarded British choreographer based in London, where he works with his company Wayne McGregor/Random Dance in a permanent residence at Sadler’s Wells. He is also the Resident Choreographer of the Royal Opera House (since 2006) and he collaborated during last years with the most important institutions of dance, like La Scala in Milan, Paris Opera Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theatre, Stuttgart Ballet and New York City Ballet.
Since the beginning of his career, he got noticed for his incredible and innovative style of dance characterized by the speed of the choreography and the particular movements through which the usual shape of the body appearing like fragmented and broken up but even the figure is re-connected in a flow of gestures and energies.
With his previous pieces with Random he has built a strong and articulated vocabulary of choreographic movements enriched over the years introducing technology as a fundamental element in the creation of the work. The implementation of new technological devices, together with McGregor passion for the cyber culture, is became a starting point for several choreographies where the relations between the bodies of performers on stage, and the same bodies with the audience, changing thanks a different way to consider and act on the perception layers.
Last April, Wayne McGregor presented Carbon Life, a dance realized with the Royal Ballet and thought as part of a choreographic triptych together with Christopher Wheeldon‘s Polyphonia and Liam Scarlett‘s Sweet Violets at the Royal Opera House, in London. Carbon Life is a short ballet created with important collaborations: the two worldwide famous pop singers Mark Ronson and Boy George for the music; and the promise of fashion design Gareth Pugh for the costumes of all the performers. It’s the first time that McGregor leans on a stylist for the costumes in his show but the particular research that Pugh is carrying on about the shape and the technological materials of his garments seems quite close to the McGregor aesthetic and reflections on the human figure.
Giulia Tonucci: I’d like to develop this interview focusing on different key words, proposed in alphabetic order to create a sort of lexicon through that we can individuate the main points of your last choreography, Carbon Life. Let’s start with the first one. ARCHITECTURE OF THE COMPOSITION _ Analyzing your work I individuated a sort of an architecture of the composition, structured by several layers of sense, of languages, referring to the different elements involved; can you describe the “architecture” of Carbon Life?
Wayne McGregor: I’m a believer that dance has to be the top of the architecture tree, because there is always a priority. For me, choreography existing in all the aspects we talk about and, by the way, dance is in front of it. So it is fine that sometimes music is the most present, or design is the most present, or light is, or the audience. These things are all equal for me and my job is to emphasize their main differences placed. I love the fact that sometimes these crossovers sometimes provide tension, sometimes they skim over to another, sometimes they go foreground. If I’m thinking like building my language, then I’m thinking in choreographicly: for example, now I want the filmed structure forward, I want the music structure underneath and I want the dance past over it. So I think as of all the elements are “bodies” that I work with.
For me the all composition is choreographic. And in Carbon Life is like that: so there is a sense in which sometimes the sing is in the back and the dance has its shape; sometimes design is forward and the dance happens in a piece inside it. I think that all this aspects have value and are interesting.
Giulia Tonucci: BALLET _ Carbon Life is the new work realized as Resident Choreographer at ROH. In your choreographies, especially the ones with Random Dance, you always work on the direction of breaking the still forms typical of the ballet, following an “aesthetic of fluidity” where are highlighted speed and fragmentation of the movement, where the research and the creation of clear lines and new vectors of the movement set free the body of the dancers from static figures. What do you think about the opposition existing between contemporary dance and ballet and how do you set them?
Wayne McGregor: I have a guess about it a lot, because I’m working in different organizations. When I mean the studios, the person for me is the same; I’m interesting to work with the bodies in front of me, and all the bodies have physical signature. And what I love to do is to pull out that signature in the choreography. And if the signature is very technical I’m interested in just changing it or diverting it. The only difference I guess between the two things is when I’m working with my company Random Dance: I can work for twelve weeks, everyday, all day. I have a lot of time to experiment changes and try. When I work with a ballet company I have an hour, an hour, and an hour… you have to make it finished. So the difference is in process with Random, everything is in flux, all the time, for a very long time. With the ballet you need to be more perspective. But I think in terms of style, if you have dancers open and curious every techniques then working. You can create a very good dialogue with the dancers; I really respect them and guess so much from them. It’s a collaborative process: we generate a vocabulary together.
Giulia Tonucci: BODY _ For Carbon Life Gareth Pugh made garments reminding the Bauhaus style, first of all our memory goes to Oskar Schlemmer and his Triadic Ballet, then to the Boccioni futurist paintings and to the Cubism for the way that the garments breaking down the human figure….
Wayne McGregor: Actually I’m really obsess by Bauhaus. And I like the tradition also of the Ballet Meccanique. The tradition of Bauhaus was visible in Schlemmer’s pieces with the lines, strips or triangles dance. And I think Gareth’s idea was how it is possible making a contemporary version of it; he was more interesting in “carbonizing” and making like graphite or diamonds the body. Pugh created a very untypical opposite to a natural body; this form that he made has a very angles structure, very strong silhouette.
Giulia Tonucci: I think there is a similar way to work now in performing arts and fashion design, and in your collaboration with Gareth Pugh is clear this tendency to go beyond the still and close form of the body and then try to find new directions for re-building the presence on stage…
Wayne McGregor: It’s true. I think was interesting when you see the costume and body together; then you can read it very differently. So for example, the costume design he has drawn for men, which cover all the leg until here (knee, n.d.a.) and the dancer usually puts the weight of the body in to the legs, where usually points give a sense of ethereal, of lightness, make the body float, with these cuissardes is the opposite. I love this destruction of the balance, loss ahead of the arts extended beyond their limits, all the faces is mask and you don’t see their features.
Giulia Tonucci: In your choreographies usually there is a research of velocity and, at the same time, a sort of fragmentation of the movement that seems to go toward the same direction with Pugh’s work on the costumes. Could you explain your research about the body and the perception of it (from the point of view of the audience and of the dancers, too)?
Wayne McGregor: I think must people very “normalize” view of the body; we always like the body feels like it’s working harmony, or nice lines, or symmetrical shapes. And I think one of the things that fashion does very well is it makes looking the body in a fresh way, must in terms of the shape, of the texture or tone. Synthesizing this information, the body becomes like an information space.
And if I think about the correlation with my choreography, I like anatomize the body, put it apart, change different logics, a logic which is normal, a dysfunctional body. So I love extreme speed or extreme flexibility or extreme aggression between bodies. I think it could be an interesting friction for people watching.
Giulia Tonucci: COLLABORATION _ It’s one of the main aspects which Carbon Life is based on. For this piece you worked with other famous artists of the music world like Mark Ronson, and very interesting, with one of the most brilliant and young fashion designer of the last years: Gareth Pugh. What was the kind of work with Ronson and Pugh, and how did you bring together the different backgrounds of each ones? How much did you interact each other?
Wayne McGregor: I always work collaboratively. I always work with different artists or scientists, cause for me is such interesting. With Gareth Pugh I just love Gareth clothes, he is fashion designer, and I wanted to ask him to involve for creation of not just clothes but the stage design, cause I feel his fashion is very theatrical with a complete idea of it. And with Marc is the same, I like the Marc Ronson’s music and I called Marc for meeting me to talk about working together about two years ago. And we started to develop everything in parallel, and I knew I want Mark’s nine songs, actually contemporary love songs. And with Gareth Pugh was interesting because I love the way which Gareth Pugh destroys the body or gives the body a challenge. So we have three contemporary artistic sensibilities and was very interesting work together. That because the collaboration for creating choreography and costumes is very close as well as the collaboration between choreography and music is very close. And much later everything comes together with me in the middle.
Giulia Tonucci: COSTUMES _ The costumes of your works are sometimes basic like in Entity where the dancers wore just black and white underwear with digital codes printed on; or they are more elaborated, like the prosthetics devices hanged at the arms of the dancer, in Nemesis. But each time they are important to bring out the body’s movement, and interacting with the light design of Lucy Carter and other digital and technical devices; and then they give a different impression of the body itself.
Wayne McGregor: I think we know now the robotics and technologies and we have very confused idea what is the potentiality of body extension. Look at the work of performance artist like Stelarc or Orlan, all of them are interesting for me, and I think dance has a space for that, too, even in very conventional house like here (Royal Opera House, n.d.a.). And I think the more extreme, the clothes, the more the body has to work out how to solve the problem of moving; and I think in solving the problem it’s necessary invent interesting things for the body to do.
Giulia Tonucci: PRESENCE _ The issue of presence is one of the most significant in the contemporary live arts, where we can find a new kind of multimedia and digital performance, where there is the implementation of video, moving screens, sensors and other technological devices. What is the meaning of performing presence in your creations? How do you build the presence on stage?
Wayne McGregor: I think the point interesting about that question, first of all, is the audience, who decide aspects of presence. And audience is who watches it through filters; and generally what audiences do is have an idea what the piece is going to be, and collect evidences from the piece to affirm the opinion they have before they enter to the theatre. So they look for evidence that confirm the opinion they already had.
There is not that many audiences those go open and look for presence. So first of all, the job of helping the audience being natural in allowing the presence effect it. For me, is my job to -in a way- deliver presence to the audience, is my job allowing dancers to cross some important points to touch the audience: a point is provoke with their presence, another point is to make them fly, another point is to confuse them, I think we can do that cause I think making dance is a transaction of energy, in a way, and energetic like world with the stage to be able to mediate presence like that.
Giulia Tonucci: SOUND _ After important collaboration like Joby Talbot and Jon Hopkins (Entity) and Ben Frost (FAR), we have for Carbon Life the contribution and the stage participation of another very famous musician and producer like Mark Ronson. About the sound artists just mentioned they realized for your last choreographies a sort of landscape made up of beats and pulsations, stretching the line of the time or pressurizing it by fast switching of different patterns. Ronson, instead, is famous in the pop music world, his sing became international and dancing hits and for the show there is a list of songs played by Ronson, Boy George, the rapper Black Cobain and many others. What is the relation with the music for your choreography, thinking the role that the sound has in the composition work?
Wayne McGregor: I think is all music that I have some affinity to, and I love so different types of musics and I like to push music in different ways. Ben Frost that have worked with the Random Dance Company is very extreme, and the audience we usually have for Random is used to have a contemporary feel. The audience here, which is quite conventional, is used to different type of music. So context is very important when you work with music.
In the creation of my choreographies the relation with dance and music is very direct, anyway. With Ben Frost we worked together side by side and then generated the choreography; so generally with the sound artist if he will give me something then I will give something to him. I’ll give him physical objects; he will give me sound objects. For Carbon Life was different because I got the song, I knew all the songs words. I did always work with the songs, I made the choreography by I knew all their word, because the nature of the pop songs it is quite strict.
Giulia Tonucci: TECHNOLOGY _ Which is the relation with technology in Carbon Life? And in particular, are the garments realized with technological textiles for allowing a specific movement to the dancer?
Wayne McGregor: For me technology is always the thing that you can see on the stage. I think is important in the process how you use technologies. So Gareth Pugh is pretty an example of that: the way which he works on fabrics, and he stresses objects to know that exposed materials could be made or how they couldn’t be made before. And so the technological literacy of that costumes is embodied in the process of making them. When I think in this term, I think the body as the most technologically thing that we have already.
Giulia Tonucci: In some of you previous works there is the implementation of technologies during rehearsals as well as in the stage realization of the work. Can you explain the modalities that technologies enter in Carbon Life?
Wayne McGregor: In this piece there is not a lot of technologies over than very complicated lighting. In other pieces I worked with computer systems and algorithm, as in Entity and in Far, for example; here there are very beautiful light objects. I’m always interested in technologies in process first, not just on the stage when they just do things.
About using technology during rehearsal was been interesting here taking me on the issue of what the body wearing, from the shoes to the dress. The point shoe may look restrictive, but it’s made in such a way the foot can do everything that it needs to do; the dancer needs to invent the technique for the boys to be able to go on with the shoes.
There is a technical consideration about how you use this costumes. I find it very interesting because that is biomechanical, that’s also technology. Gareth Pugh made also some tutus very aggressive and make all of change in the relation between dancers because if they pushing each others, for example, it’s hard, it hurts. They are the same for boys and girls, actually sometimes the boys wear the tutu and another boy’s parts of this, so the distance has to be managed differently, basic pondering to re-configure the technology or the technique. Now, if this happens it gives me more space to invent. It’s interesting when technology happens in process.