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Wayne McGregor"Wayne McGregor's artful science"


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#1 leonid17

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Posted 20 November 2008 - 04:38 AM

The Royal Ballet's "Choreographer in Residence" Mr McGregor, talks about himself and his work in this interview "The Times" presaging his new ballet "Infra".

http://entertainment...icle4669279.ece

I always find such interviews revealing.

#2 dirac

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Posted 21 November 2008 - 11:49 AM

Thanks for pulling this article from the trunk, leonid. It is indeed revealing, although probably not in the way McGregor intended.

Does he discuss the concepts with his dancers? “I don’t. Sometimes it gets in the way. I get a lot of material, find out what the territory is and let the structure emerge.” The Royal’s dancers, who mostly work on classical ballets by dead people, respond eagerly. “I’m very physical in the studio, which they find captivating. They take the challenge and surprise themselves.”


I understand that dancers are stimulated by performing in new work made especially for them. I wish the reporter hadn’t felt the need to describe traditional ballet repertory in this way, though.

#3 bart

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Posted 21 November 2008 - 02:35 PM

“I can’t work with the kind of dancers who sit back,” he says, and for a nanosecond he settles. Then he zips forward: “I like dancers to be in a state of preparedness, always on the front foot. People who have a voracious appetite.” Voracious is a favourite word of McGregor’s.

This does make sense if the music is appropriate and if the point of the particular dance is to be very assertive and in-your-face, rusing to devour time, space, mvement, you name it. "Voracious" makes me think of Robbins' The Cage. However, programs consisting entirely of movement and energy of this sort would become tedious pretty quickly I think. I wonder what McGregor would make, for instance of the gentle, thoughtful, non-dramataic opening and the closing of another Robbins masterwork, "Dances at a Gathering?

A couple of the ideas sketched in this interview made me think of the far more sophisticated approach that Production Director/Designer Robert Lepage has done for the Met's new Damnation of Faust. I'll be seeing that the Met HDLive simulcasts tomorrow. Of course, Lapage's production will still focus on classically trained singers singing as they were trained to do. And it's still Berlioz. The stage effects -- produced by an elaborate system of cameras, infrared lights, motion detectors, etc., will be created instantaneously and interactively as the performance goes on. I'm quite impatient to see what they do with the ballet portions, especially the Dance of the Spirits.

Things certainly are changing very drastically in the performing arts, even at the mammoth institutions like the Met and the Royal. I agree with dirac: t's a shame that some of the innovators cannot resist hawking their own visions by putting down the vision of others. Perhaps countries with state theaters need TWO of them: one for the traditional arts and those who are willing and able to work within that tradition; and one for the self-conscious innovators. There's room for both in Britain as elsewhere. My bet is that, by the end of a 20 year period, the works of Petipa, Ashton, and even Cranko and MacMillan will still be around.

#4 leonid17

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Posted 21 November 2008 - 05:24 PM

Things certainly are changing very drastically in the performing arts, even at the mammoth institutions like the Met and the Royal. I agree with dirac: t's a shame that some of the innovators cannot resist hawking their own visions by putting down the vision of others. Perhaps countries with state theaters need TWO of them: one for the traditional arts and those who are willing and able to work within that tradition; and one for the self-conscious innovators. There's room for both in Britain as elsewhere. My bet is that, by the end of a 20 year period, the works of Petipa, Ashton, and even Cranko and MacMillan will still be around.


Firstly, although from outside it may look so, we do not have a single state theatre in the UK. The Royal Opera House which may appear to be a state theatre, but it has to raise the greatest proportion of its finance through, the sale of tickets, ancillary activities and most importantly donations and sponsorship which far outweighs the funding that comes from the taxpayer via the Arts Council of Great Britain.
The Sadler’s Wells Theatre provides a venue for modern and classical ballet companies from the UK and especially from around the world. If there is a second ‘dance’ house this is it. Like the Opera House, its finances have to be acquired in the same manner.
I do not know why the Royal Ballet appears to be losing faith in its own tradition in not commissioning works by only ‘classical choreographers’, as we know that the canon of the Royal Ballet, has always had a very wide reading of ‘classical’, having been originally inspired by 19th century classical ballets and Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe style of ballets.
If you look at the one act ballets of MacMillan, works by Helpmann and even Ashton, there are works that are not all tutu ballets and many still remain modern in concept.
What makes them different from the work of Wayne McGregor, is the balletic and aesthetic tradition of the mentioned choreographers (and others) in sustaining a healthy and wide view of what classical ballet dancers can and should perform and yet still break earlier perceived boundaries in the process.
Why Mr McGregor would want to work with classical ballet dancers from a company seemingly diametrically opposed to his own aesthetic, is as unfathomable as is the Royal Ballet wanting to employ him?
There is nothing old-fashioned about classical ballet as there is nothing old fashioned about 18th and 19th century opera or 16th century drama. I can say with all certainty that English audiences retain a respect for tradition, not for its own sake for many works have come and gone, but for that which sustains their concept of what is art and what sustains the genre they most admire. The Royal Opera House audience is I would say solid in their judgement as to what they want to see, yet most frequently open to the new when they consider it to be both right and good for themselves and the company.
The current programme with Wayne McGregor’s “Infra” which gets a terrific performance by the RB dancers but does not attract audiences and undermines the ballet as a lesser contributor to the Opera House financial pot as a result. If this does not indicate a perceived division by audiences, what louder voice could there be.
The Royal Opera House contains a second auditorium called the Linbury and I think “Infra” would have looked better there, the McGregor audience (?) might have preferred its ambience and turned up in numbers to be a sell out.
To exist for the performance of works other than large classical ballet ballets, was I thought a function of having the Linbury Theatre. It is potentially a third if not the a second London home for dance.

#5 dirac

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Posted 21 November 2008 - 06:44 PM

Why Mr McGregor would want to work with classical ballet dancers from a company seemingly diametrically opposed to his own aesthetic, is as unfathomable as is the Royal Ballet wanting to employ him?


It's a very high profile gig, for one thing, in front of a vastly increased audience, with lots of attention from the press. And from a less cynical angle, he has some of the best dancers in the world to work with. (No disrespect meant to McGregor's own dancers.)

#6 bart

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Posted 21 November 2008 - 08:09 PM

The Linbury seats fewer than 400. We have a similar "second theater" at our own local opera house, the stage of which is quite small. An 8- or 10-person dance company more than fills fills it if they're all on stage together and moving at the same time. Leonid, do MacGregor's works require lots of space -- the kind of space he might feel he can only find at the main stage?

As for the Royal wanting McGregor, it seems that -- as elsewhere -- the desperate search for new audiences continues. McGregor in the interview implies that the dancers themselves want the opportunities provided by his ballets and by having him set his work on them. You mention that they dance Infra very well.

Then there's the possibility that the Royal is under pressure to encourage British choreographers, though they seem to have passed up a number who work quite well in the ballet idiom in order to bring McGregor on board. As you say, leonid, it does seem puzzling.

Anyone else have thoughts about this?

#7 Lynette H

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 05:59 AM

The opening night of Infra was filmed by the BBC. a documentary on the making of the work, followed by the performance, is available via BBC iplayer at

http://www.bbc.co.uk...World_Premiere/

I think this will be available until next Saturday.

#8 bart

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 06:43 AM

Thank you Lynette for that Link. Unfortunately, this service seems to be unavailable outside the UK. I tried to follow the complicated explanations, exceptions, etc., that popped up, but didn't get far in the time I had.

Has anyone in the U.S. -- or any country outside Britain -- know whether it's possible to access this service? And, if so, how?

It would certainly be wonderful for ballet fans around the world if they could receive and learn from this kind of close-up experience of the British ballet.

#9 Mashinka

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 06:52 AM

The Royal Opera House contains a second auditorium called the Linbury and I think “Infra” would have looked better there, the McGregor audience (?) might have preferred its ambience and turned up in numbers to be a sell out.
To exist for the performance of works other than large classical ballet ballets, was I thought a function of having the Linbury Theatre. It is potentially a third if not the a second London home for dance.


I think that McGregor's first performances at the ROH were indeed at the Linbury some years back, possibly a collaboration with his own company, Random Dance; I seem to remember Deborah Bull being a prominent soloist the evening I went.

Although I'll admit to being a fan of Mr McGregor's and try to see Random Dance whenever I can, I still feel uneasy about this link with the RB, possibly because I feel classical and modern are two different disciplines and should remain that way. I can't help feeling that taking on W.M. was the easy option for the RB, far easier than developing a choreographer from within the company ranks.

As far as ticket sales go, the box office has been behaving oddly all season and it hasn't just been the ballet that has struggled to achieve full houses.

#10 Helene

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 03:15 PM

Roslyn Sulcas gave a rave review to "Infra" in Friday's The New York Times.

http://www.nytimes.c....html?ref=dance

Wayne McGregor is a name little known to American dancegoers, who at best might have caught a performance or two by his contemporary company, Random Dance, on one of its infrequent visits to the United States. But across the Atlantic, Mr. McGregor, a 38-year-old Englishman who is also the resident choreographer at the venerable Royal Ballet, is doing some of the most exciting work in ballet on the planet.



#11 GoCoyote!

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Posted 01 December 2008 - 03:13 AM

I'm afraid I would describe Roslyn Sulcasi's review more as a 'pathologically rave review' rather than mere 'rave review' ... or even 'good review' ... certainly it is not an 'accurate and well observed review'.

Review link:

http://www.nytimes.c....html?ref=dance

...... doing some of the most exciting work in ballet on the planet.


If this is true then it is in my opinion a very, very depressing thought, not least because what 'ballet' the choreography does contain tends to be of the all too familiar subverted, deconstructed kind we see so often in modern dance/ modern ballet works. Much of the sense and look of 'ballet' in both works (Chroma and now Infra) comes from the fact it is being danced by a (world class) classical ballet company such as the RB, rather than a modern dance company with ballet training ... one is seeing to a large extent modern dance worn (and oh so flatteringly worn!) by some of the most highly trained classical ballet dancers, and exiting balletic bodies on the, er ... planet.

......a detailed flow of motion that implies narrative, emotion, drama, through its physical tensions and juxtapositions.


Having seen the piece myself I could just as easily describe it as 'a never ending one dimensional choreographic circus display of subverted ballet, pedestrian angst, sexy/ athletic posing coupled with constant and meaningless show of extreme extension and flexibility all of which remains uniformly vague and noncommittal throughout, with additional bizarre moments of 'emoting' as simplistic and shallow as any nursery school drama class awkwardly tacked on with all the choreographic subtly and sophistication of cartoon strip speech bubbles'.

However if, for any reason, I wanted to write a rave review I could just as easily go with her quote ... I guess that's the beauty of abstract, intellectual, modern dance .... don't pin your work down to specific meanings and you can never be 'wrong' or make a 'bad' work... 'great'! :thumbsup:

Only Lauren Cuthbertson remains behind, crumpled on the ground, her head thrown back in a cry of solitary anguish...../....When the ballet ends on a gentle pas de deux for Mr. Watson and Ms. Cuthbertson, it’s with regretful surprise that you leave their world..


The above quote illustrates the poor observation/accuracy of Roslyn Sulcasi's piece. After Ms Cuthbertson is left (essentially) alone on stage she is joined by Nunez and Watson. Nunez stands directly behind Cuthbertson for maybe half a minute before Cuthbertson gets up and walks offstage leaving Nunez and Watson alone on stage to dance the final PDD. To make such a glaring mistake perhaps hints at the inconsequential, meaningless nature of the choreography as well as the dramatic non-sense of the piece.

Both the previous work 'Chroma' and 'Infra' received mixed reviews from both reviewers and audience alike. Interestingly many of the reactions have been at either end of the scale - either similar to this reviewer (perhaps not quite so extreme) or at the other end: really quite scathing, often speaking of 'The Emperor's New Clothes'.....

I do not mean to appear too scathing myself, but felt compelled to offer and alternative view and take apart what I feel is more of an 'enthusiastic rant' rather than thoughtful or perceptive review.

As modern dance and of its type, it is certainly refined and has its moments despite the dreadful music and the laboured and misguided LED display concept which will probably feel like an 'aesthetic burden' by the next time this work is considered again for the stage (if it ever is). But is it right for a resident choreographer to be making such works on a company like the RB? No. Is it revolutionary? Absolutely not!

#12 Rebeccadb

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Posted 01 December 2008 - 08:44 AM

As modern dance and of its type, it is certainly refined and has its moments despite the dreadful music and the laboured and misguided LED display concept which will probably feel like an 'aesthetic burden' by the next time this work is considered again for the stage (if it ever is). But is it right for a resident choreographer to be making such works on a company like the RB? No. Is it revolutionary? Absolutely not!




After I saw Chroma at the first run I wondered whether the appointment of MacGregor was the right decision for the RB, but seeing the second run of that ballet & now this new piece I think the choreographer & the dancers are a good match. MacGregor's style has little in common with Petipa, Ashton & MacMillan & I feel that's the whole point as he offers something new for audiences to watch & for the dancers to tackle (which they clearly enjoy doing). I would suggest that Infra is almost still a work in progress & that if given another run next year would reappear with sharper focus as Chroma did. There's much to enjoy in the piece such as Eric Underwood's beautiful solo & his duet with Melissa Hamilton as well as being able to see familiar dancers move in quite new & unusual ways.

The Royal Ballet was initially a company founded on short new works by new choreographers, Tudor & later MacMillan were attacked for daring to move ballet in different directions and I feel its right for the management to be looking for new movement styles. There will never be another Petipa, Balanchine, Ashton or MacMillan as they were unique in their own ways, but MacGregor is only just starting out on his choreographic journey with the RB which hopefully take him and us on lots of adventures along the way. Infra quite clearly shows a maturity and change of direction from Chroma & its exciting that the choreographer is slowly moving from a mechanical, abstract movement vocabularly to one where people and relationships are depicted and a narrative implied. This is very much what the RB has a tradition of & bodes well for the future. I also think he's brave to accept the Resident Choreographer job & present his works on the main stage as many in-house talents have tried & failed, he's been thrown in at the deep end & is swimming strongly. The Linbury is too small a venue for his pieces as demonstrated by the Royal Ballet School's piece they presented which grew immeasurably when moved from the Linbury to the main stage.

There's more than enough room in the rep for MacGregor's pieces as that's the whole point of having a broad rep to dip in & out of & like Glen Tetley's Pierrot Lunaire its sometimes good to move audience & dancers alike out of their comfort zones.

#13 leonid17

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Posted 01 December 2008 - 01:10 PM

I am glad to hear the voice of another member of the Royal Ballet audience, but I do feel I have to respond to almost every line of your post.

“As modern dance…” (quote) I cannot agree that “Infra” is modern dance per se. Modern dance as a theatrical spectacle or more properly ‘concert dance’ began in America at the beginning of the 20th century with Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Humphrey, Charles Weidman. Ruth St Denis Ted Shawn Martha Graham et al. Louis Horst (who has heard of him today) was a seminal figure in the defining the underlying rules of modern dance choreography and was expert in assisting in the realisation of choreography to both existing and commissioned scores.

Modern dance was established before 1939 and what has subsequently been called by the same descriptive, is hardly modern, and is hardly ‘up to date’. Modern’ has been and is today used as a marketing tool to attract the unknowing (sometimes to the unknowable) to the thought that they are seeing something of the ‘now’.
“Infra” uses nothing in dance expression that I did not see in the 1960’s and its use of a LED screen and a minimalist setting is just as old in concept as projections of that era and is no where as startling or as ‘artistic’ as Alwin Nikolais was in his time.

But is it right for a resident choreographer to be making such works on a company like the RB? No. Is it revolutionary? Absolutely not! You will find other posts on “Infra have also expressed this view.”

“After I saw Chroma at the first run I wondered whether the appointment of McGregor was the right decision for the RB, but seeing the second run of that ballet & now this new piece I think the choreographer & the dancers are a good match.”(quote) There is a well-known phenomena employed in marketing, trashy TV shows and brainwashing that repeated exposure to a stimulus will lead to “familiarity breeds (or leads) to acceptance). That is to say we are more inclined to look for good things in repeated stimuli because the original shock, disgust or rejection will be lessened in various degrees.

“… as he offers something new for audiences to watch…” (quote) That is not a substantial criteria for presenting works at great expense that keeps the house almost one third empty on successive nights and “… & for the dancers to tackle (which they clearly enjoy doing). “ (quote) I am not very interested in how much dancers enjoy a work as they are doing a JOB they have chosen, with pay that is better than many people who attend the Royal Opera House regularly. Satisfaction of achieving their personal goals, meeting company demands and serving their
art is more important. Being unhappy with a repertoire is a personal problem and there are jobs available elsewhere.
“I would suggest that Infra is almost still a work in progress…” (quote) and I paid Ł55.00 to see a work in progress, I think not.
“ There's much to enjoy in the piece such as Eric Underwood's beautiful solo & his duet with Melissa Hamilton as well as being able to see familiar dancers move in quite new & unusual ways. (quote) “No argument from me for the performance, especially as I thought Eric Underwood who I admired from his first day on stage with the company has grown in performing stature to such a degree that I wonder how the RB will use him in the future.
“The Royal Ballet was initially a company founded on short new works by new choreographers…” (quote) Yes and no. The reason Dame Ninette did not produce the classics from the early days of the Sadlers’ Wells Ballet was because she neither had enough dancers to fill the stage or enough dancers of a quality to fill the roles. She also knew from the beginning that for the Sadlers Wells Ballet to achieve a high status, she would have to acquire productions of the Petipa classics hence “Swan Lake” in 1934. She had learnt from the experience of working for and watching Diaghilev’s company that the constant production of new works was very expensive and that in England the fairly conservative audience would respond more to full length ballets and in that she had been proved right up until this very day.
“… MacMillan were attacked for daring to move ballet in different directions…” (Quote) Only a few of MacMillan’s works were ever received coolly and what were considered by some to be somewhat shocking was well received by the cognoscenti and critics. “…l it’s right for the management to be looking for new movement styles.” (quote) Please define more clearly as I think proof of that is needed. “There will never be another Petipa, Balanchine, Ashton or MacMillan as they were unique in their own ways, but McGregor is only just starting out on his choreographic journey…” (quote) I think you will find that Mr McGregor has something like 60 dance works or more to his credit.
”Infra quite clearly shows a maturity and change of direction from Chroma & its exciting that the choreographer is slowly moving from a mechanical, abstract movement vocabulary to one where people and relationships are depicted and a narrative implied.” (quote) To acquire maturity as a choreographer you first have to have a starting point. As he has never started for me, I cannot recognise the maturity.
“This is very much what the RB has a tradition of ...” (quote) Having watched the Royal Ballet for a good number of decades, I see nothing that relates to the past in terms of establishing an original voice or as a jumping off place for what is after all. an academic classical ballet company. Unless of course there is a deep dark conspiracy to change the Royal Ballet profile to another kind of company. “I also think he's brave to accept the Resident Choreographer job…” (quote) Well brave or foolish, it has certainly raised his profile and makes him a more marketable product in his usual field of operation.

“There's more than enough room in the rep for McGregor's pieces as that's the whole point of having a broad rep to dip in & out of & like Glen Tetley's Pierrot Lunaire its sometimes good to move audience & dancers alike out of their comfort zones.” McGregor is not a Glen Tetley and I do not have a comfort zone but there is no doubt that the majority of the paying audience do.

"Infra" was an expensive experiment in programming. It may have gone down well at the Sadlers'Wells Theatre, but the Royal Opera House is a different audience and when you do not pay respect to your core audience they stay away.

#14 GoCoyote!

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Posted 01 December 2008 - 02:18 PM

First of all just to clear up any confusion due to unclear quoting.

Rebeccadb has quoted a paragraph of mine (at the start of her post) but without a quote box or quotation marks - these were actually my words:

As modern dance and of its type, it is certainly refined and has its moments despite the dreadful music and the laboured and misguided LED display concept which will probably feel like an 'aesthetic burden' by the next time this work is considered again for the stage (if it ever is). But is it right for a resident choreographer to be making such works on a company like the RB? No. Is it revolutionary? Absolutely not!

Moderator's interjection: I repaired the unmarked quote in post #12.

I am not sure if leonid has responded to that paragraph as if they were Rebeccadb's words or mine. His points are still a perfectly valid though and I admit my dance history is a little patchy!

The truth is I don't really know what to call works like 'Infra'!

Maybe I feel reluctant to call it 'modern ballet' because that implies in round about way that in few years time it will be simply 'ballet' when to me it clearly isn't. I would say the same is true of many other 'modern works danced by ballet companies' but I've never felt the term 'modern ballet' mattered so much before. It is probably the fact that McGregor is the RB's resident choreographer, therefore if a resident choreographer is making 'modern ballet' for a ballet company then he might be thought to be defining ballet for this moment. And I don't agree with or feel good about that assertion. So when I said '...As modern dance and of its type....' I was making the point that I have less issues with 'Infra' if I view it as something other than 'modern ballet'. I still don't really know what to call it though..... :)

Anyway I don't want to take this thread too off topic.

Edited by carbro, 03 December 2008 - 09:24 PM.
to add moderator's interjection


#15 bart

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Posted 01 December 2008 - 02:49 PM

GoCoyote!, I think you raise an important and relevant point: what we call something (or what we are told to call it) has a huge effect on what we see (or think we see) on stage.

For example, the fact that MacGregor is "called" the "resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet" carries implication that what he does is indeed within the limits of ballet.


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