Wayne McGregor is a contemporary phenomenon on the world stage TODAY. If you had to name five choreographers on one hand that, in the last ten years, had creatively influenced the direction contemporary dance has taken over this period you would be hard pressed not to name him twice alongside William Forysthe, Angelin Preljocaj and Christopher Wheeldon. These choreographers’ creations are engaging audiences with the top companies around the globe 52 weeks of the year. McGregor has works being performed by The Royal Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Netherlands Dans Theater, Royal Danish Ballet and Australian Ballet to name a few!
Combine McGregor’s international choreographic foot print with running his own company whilst at the same time enjoying the creative stimulus of being The Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer for the last ten years and you have the perfect platform to develop your own choreographic style and statement. McGregor is a creative genius in the middle of his journey where the likes of Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham laid the path for others to follow. He believes dance should speak the language of today. Like Kenneth McMillan in the 70s and early 80s, McGregor now enjoys the luxury of creating an artistic vision not a commercial one, and rightly so. He says “We live in complex times. Our art forms should reflect the need to decipher meanings and find new synergies. It’s not for everyone and that’s fine. But it is absolutely what we should be doing.”
Tree of Codes was created by McGregor for the 2015 Manchester International Festival and is based on, and inspired by, Jonathan Safran Foer’s book of the same name. The packed audience had high expectations and were not disappointed at London’s Dance House, The Sadler’s Wells.
Yes the piece was complex yet at the same time it had a simplicity. Like reading a book; some would find Tree of Codes a hard read and others would sit back and enjoy being visually stimulated. It was like being put in the middle of a kaleidoscope with numerous visual choices of colour and dynamic movement constantly on display. The piece was optically exciting and challenging as the eye was taken in every direction as the dancers twisted and turned with pristine precision and boundless energy for 75 minutes with Jamie xx’s pulsating electronic score.
Olafur Eliasson’s visual concept and sets offered a choice of reflecting views to the work. The inventive use of mirrors and lighting added to the evening in more ways than one! At a flick of a switch the mirrored sets would change angles offering the audience the choice of seeing double with the cast instantly changing from 15 to 30. At times it was even hypnotic as the brain had to decide what was reality in the real world and what was “fake news”, when suddenly the viewer was unable to decipher which one was mirror and which one was the real dancer!
Talking of dancers this was perhaps the star attraction of the evening. After years of working with his own contemporary dancers and separately with classical ballet dancers with the likes of The Royal Ballet to perform his own creative contemporary vocabulary, McGregor pushes out the boundaries even further by combining both classical and contemporary dancers working together. The Paris Opera Ballet and Company Wayne McGregor dancers worked seamlessly as one.
With all the hype the dance world could muster, dance sensation Sergei Polunin entered centre stage but this time not only as a dancer but also as director and choreographer. Polunin had a point to prove.
Leaving The Royal Ballet aged 22, almost as dramatically as Nureyev entered the West, the youngest ever Principal dancer of The Royal Ballet decided he needed artistic freedom. His antics and life style has branded him the bad boy of the ballet world. Who could argue with that but he is still arguably the most talented dancer of this generation. So what went wrong? Prestigiously talented young people in the performing world need wise mentors and managers to guide them through their careers. You can’t do it all, but by all accounts Polunin keeps trying to go it alone.
As an evening of dance, with such high expectations, it was always going to be hard for Polunin to succeed at the level he is used to as a performer. The opening work, Icarus, The Night before the Flight, was a throwback from the past. Choreographed in 1971 by Russian Star Vladimir Vasiliev, the piece looked and felt dated not least because as Polunin soared around the stage the steps were those that Vasiliev and Nureyev shocked audiences with back in the 70s. Dance has moved on in 50 years and Polunin has the talent to prove it especially if he were to work closely with one of today’s eminent choreographers. He is irresistible on and off stage. His recent dance video Take Me to Church went viral with nearly 20 million hits online. The next up, Tea or Coffee, created by Andrey Kaydanovskiy was performed by dancers of the Stanislavsky Ballet. The piece was meant to be a joke but was lost on most.
Ending the evening was the eagerly awaited choreographic endeavor by Polunin, Narcissus and Echo. The mythological piece was long on sparkly jock straps but short on meaningful choreography, giving the audience plenty to think about. Polunin will reflect on where his talents really lie and how best to bring them centre stage. If he were a golfer he would have a manager: his first shot at choreography was a “fore” loud and clear!