Wayne McGregor’s FAR, which came to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco this past weekend, was reportedly conceived in collaboration with cognitive scientists at the University of California in San Diego.
We’ll take their word for it.
A more obvious collaboration would have been with the UCSD engineers who develop highly flexible metal composites, and who could well be testing them in the spines of the astonishing dancers of Wayne McGregor | Random Dance. A leading scientist at UCSD explains that these hybrid materials “provide optimal energy absorbing capability against high-velocity projectile impact, explosion-induced shock, or other dynamic events.” Which pretty much sums up the evening.
It opened with a magnificent, yearning duet, lit by dancers bearing flame torches and set to Cecilia Bartoli’s exquisite lament in “Sposa son Desprezzata.” Louis McMiller and Daniela Neugebauer nuzzle, tango, and connect in unusual ways — at one point, McMiller supports Neugebauer in a precarious off-balance promenade, her head gripped between his hands.
This evocation of a primal, baroque past rapidly dissolves to a futuristic scenario as the torches are extinguished, and the remainder of the 61-minute ballet unfolds against the backdrop of a gigantic pulsating circuit board composed of 3,200 LED lights. Like most of McGregor’s work, the overwhelming effect is that of alienation; the dancers collide, grapple briefly, but inevitably, as Yeats intoned in the aftermath of World War I, “the centre cannot hold /… The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Dancers squabble; a women’s trio, enveloped in tenderness, is broken up by three ill-humored men; the fracas leads to a full-blown rumble.
Lucy Carter’s sensational lighting creates pathways and intimate spaces on stage, turning the pedestrian into poetry. When she floods the space in a harsh orange light, we sense disaster – possibly a nuclear accident. The dancers’ bodies appear to glow. They abandon their petty quarrels, and instead set about to rescue one another, as the survival instinct and their fundamental humanity kick in. Numbers flash on the circuit board like a digital Geiger counter; we watch in alarm as the radiation count swiftly rises.
In this provocative, compelling work McGregor battles a disappointingly uneven score. Avant-garde composer Ben Frost’s thundering soundscape might transport a concert audience, but dance has different needs. The more egregious elements include “field recordings” of animal sounds so distressing that PETA may want to investigate, grating vocals by singer Helgi Hrafn Jónsson in the currently fashionable but puerile faux-folk genre, and what sounds like traffic on a rural highway in India, overlaid with generous amounts of static.
In contrast, two of Frost’s original pieces that made it into this score — wittily titled Peter Venkman Parts I and II, after Bill Murray’s iconic Ghostbusters character — lend an enthralling spookiness to portions of FAR.
– More details on this riveting West Coast première in our review in the Huffington Post. –