On Monday evening I went to see Wayne McGregor | Random Dance: Far, a contemporary dance production on at Brighton Dome. Dance isn't something I usually go and see, I loved dancing as a child but I don't tend to seek out dance performances. The exception to this is if I'm at the Edinburgh fringe festival, or if the piece leans toward physical theatre. In this case I had seen the promotional material through interning at the Dome, heard a lot of exciting things about the production and with the added bonus of free tickets I was able to attend an event I might not have otherwise.
In researching the show I saw a quote from The Times - "If any artist has defined the decade - it's Wayne McGregor" - quite a statement. I went in with an open mind, perhaps overly high expectations but an acceptance that dance was not my area. Unfortunately I left disappointed and frustrated.
When I'm enthralled by a performance, or even just really enjoying it, I'm engrossed - lost in the magical realm of theatre. In this case I found my thoughts persistently wondering to everyday thoughts, what my plans were for the next few days, what I needed to do, etc. This is never a good sign.
The physicality of the dancers, however, was incredible. The choreography was innovative and at times disturbing, moving in ways which seemed almost inhuman. While the dancers were not sexualised, the bodies of the dancers proved a distraction - more out of concern than anything else. The bare male torsos showed protruding ribs - causing anxiety which detracted from their brilliant performances.
In the post-show talk Wayne McGregor stated that performance 'should not always be pleasant' and this is a notion I am both familiar and comfortable with, and in this respect the performance succeeded. The Guardian describe McGregor's style being apparent in 'the rippling backs, the tendril arms, the probing hyperextensions.' I find this the perfect description and the element that most appealed to me in the performance. The music and lighting complimented this anxiety filled performance environment, evoking fear and dehumanisation with music having an almost metallic feel to it. The inclusion of pig squeals to the soundtrack provided an uncomfortable moment, especially on finding out these were actually recorded in an abbatoir.
So why did I leave feeling disappointed and frustrated? As much as the dancing and the atmosphere created were impressive, this was not enough to engage nor entertain for over an hour. While the production was evidently professional, I almost felt that the show would have been better received in a Fringe festival setting with a shortened length of perhaps half an hour. Even then, I still would have felt disengaged. McGregor spoke of playing with structure, starting and ending with moments of unsettling conflict, rather than easing the audience into the performance. This was not apparent. Instead it felt like over an hour of constant, chaotic conflict with moments of resolution and intimacy interspersed. While I'm all for playing with structure, I really did not feel there was one at all and as such found the performance overly long.
Equally McGregor spoke of ambiguity in the 'narrative', how he would not say what the piece meant to him but would leave that to the audience and that the beauty of dance was the multiplicity of meanings it presents. As with the structure though, I struggled to find any kind of meaning beside the easy analysis of dancers coming together and being pulled apart - love, loss, etc. Narrative is not something I always aspire for, having seen so many theatre pieces which avoid this. I do however require something in its place, and Far lacked that.
Through attending the post-show talk I discovered that there was a lengthy and intellectual background to putting together Far, with the title being an abbreviation of the book 'Flesh in the Age of Reason', exploring ideas of the relationship between mind and body, as a development of the Enlightenment. McGregor met with cognitive scientists around the country to research the decision making process in order to convey to dancers the possibility of getting out of intuitive habits, as well as to investigate kinaesthetic intelligence. As interesting as this was, I didn't feel it added much to my appreciation of the performance. I also feel that a performance should be able to stand alone, rather than needing to know the whole intellectual trail behind it. I found it interesting that The Argus' review focused mostly on the research behind the production than the production itself, with only a short paragraph dedicated to the actual end product. Intellectual dance work is an exciting prospect, but the link between the research seemed a little too large in this case.
Perhaps dance just isn't my thing, but I had high hopes for Far which claimed to be something a little more than just a dance production - when actually that was all that I got from the evening.