Thursday, October 30, 2014

FAR, Random Dance Company, Esplanade Theatre, 14 Oct 2014

Another illustrious choreographer brought in for this year's dans festival was none other than Wayne McGregor! McGregor's Random Dance Company made their Singapore premiere performing FAR, a piece about the Age of Enlightenment -- the scientific revolution that "emphasized reason and individualism rather than tradition".

McGregor's choreographic style is extremely unique, and very beautiful. Its hallmark is a melee of contorting limbs, with mighty extensions threading through one another to make each move look like a new bloom of the human body. Or rather, an inhuman body. This was Planet FAR; the Crazy Extensions Team; Yoga on Steroids; (Minimum Percentage Body Fat Pageant..) And it was wonderful to essentially see the choreography in 'true McGregor form'. What I've seen before was performed by the Royal Ballet, but here, with his own company that lives and breathes his choreography, it is perhaps a clearer glimpse into just how he likes his dance vocabulary articulated. 

While I find his style a delight to watch, I'd never thought twice about how much underlying meaning or message it could convey. His pieces I've thoroughly enjoyed (on DVD) are Chroma, Limen and Infra, but it had never occurred to me to think deeper about them. 

I was thus surprised that in FAR, I could enjoy not only his signature corporeal twists, but also an interesting symbolism in the 10 dancer's motions. The whole piece is parsed into several different segments, each of which experiments with different combinations of dancers and variations of the choreography which I can only describe as each having their own unique 'consistency'.

The most starkly different segment is the first, done in brown hues and flame; while the remaining (about 7 segments?) are white-lit by an impressive LED array. The differentiation is clearly meant to signify the before and after of the new Age. Within the Age then, McGregor experiments with different forms of human unity and separation. It reminded me most of atoms or molecules trying to bond and repel at the same time -- as if each segment was a new petri dish I was passing under a microscope. The movements are at first fairly disorderly, with no real discernible pattern. Then, when order first strikes, it is beautiful. There is repetition and symmetry against the LED background that turns into a regularly ticking counter, and this space of uniformity, speckled even with traditional ballet steps, is so rare here and in any other McGregor that it is arresting. (Interestingly, perhaps because this troupe is so rarely required to be in sync -- as in Petipa-quality corps in sync -- they are perhaps not as neat as they could have been to make the effect even more stark.)

Following this, the dancers try to form pairs, then trios, or more permutations of uniformity, but succeed and fail in turn as this Age experiments with the extent of its individualism. The movements also (furthering the Age of Enlightenment theme) find different types of reason to follow, where in one case the choreography changes to have a 'sticky' quality, with dancers' centre of gravity moving closer to the ground, and limbs peeling off the floor more consciously.

I need to also make special mention of one dancer who stood out markedly from the rest for me: Fukiko Takase. She caught my continued attention because her arms had such a unique quality I've almost never seen in any other modern dancer -- a control of them which perhaps surpassed that of her legs. In ballet class, I've always been told to 'resist' my leg as it comes in or extends, such as in a rond de jambe en l'air. But here was someone who did the exact same with her arms, and seemed to place them exactly and consciously in time and space, rather than carelessly or casually as counterweights to the rest of the body, as is typically the case. It seems a strange detail to focus on, and it took me a while to realize what was so different about her, but to me it enriched the choreography even more and perhaps gave McGregor much more limb to speak with. 

Here's to much more McGregor visiting our sunny island again!

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