Wayne McGregor "Autobiography"

Company Wayne McGregor
YBCA San Francisco
March 8-10, 2018

Contemporary Dance

The performance of Company Wayne McGregor’s “Autobiography” demands that we look at contemporary dance, its vocabulary, its technical and theatrical effects, its motivation and of course, its performances. The SF Bay Area is subject to these performances week after week, often to great applause and enthusiastic reception. What is happening on stage nowadays is often a mayhem of politics, techniques, intellectual presumptions (and pretensions) and, thank goodness, great skill in execution. All of this went into McGregor’s scientific sequencing of his own genome to make “Autobiography, “an abstract meditation on aspects of sex, life, writing, refracting both remembered pasts and speculative futures.” (program note)

What then is the dance? And what do we the audience see and know? As in many productions of this kind we learn about abstract, electronic music, about strange sometimes offensive lighting (such as when the lights shine directly into one’s eyes), and a sequence of “moves’ that combines some ballet, much locomotion, standing in place, and physical activities with another dancer that resemble “stunts and tumbling.” Contemporary dance, either through contact improvisation or the study of gymnastics, persists in devoting dance sequences to endless series of lifts, falls, rolls and general physical embrace and contact with one another. Rarely is there a dance phrase that develops without some suggestion that a partner is needed for such contact.

Of course there is no meaning intended in these activities…or is there? They are just movement phrases. Yet, for most people, when physical contact is made, the implication is that it is aggressive, manipulative or responsive to need or desire. Since there is little follow through on such contact, we viewers just assume that these actions are neutral as walking or jumping. Long ago (at least 25 years), choreographers seemed to have given up ‘meaning’ or ‘expression’ in dance. If they have not, why are their intentions not clear?

Bay Area choreographers specialize in political statements, personal stories and theater arrangements meant to delight and to amaze. These are often accompanied by lengthy verbal statements. Fortunately, McGregor’s intentions are all in the program notes. Other reviewers of “Autobiography” have noted that the 23 randomized sections have names such as “Nature, Nurture, Aging, Sleep.” For the YBCA program these sections were not named, just proceeded one after another through the “music” by Jin, the strange set design by Ben Cullen Williams, (one set looked like cruel cages), the intrusive lighting by Lucy Carter and the “androgynous” costumes by Actor Throup.

However the event Is saved if one can look beyond and through all the pretensions and watch the wonderful skill of the dancers. Their work, as in most performances, shines through and beyond intentions and decor. All ten of McGregor’s dancers are beautifully clear in their execution of postures, contacts and travel in space. I would wish for more continuity in the movement phrases so that one could follow a dancer through an extended movement statement; but that is not the style. In the darkened stage one event follows another so that the dancers too become part of a fragmented environment. Nevertheless praise is due to McGregor’s “Collaborators” (as he terms his dancers): Rebecca Bassett-Graham, Jordan James bridge, Travis Clausen-Knight, Louis McMiller, Daniela Neurgebauer, Jacob O’Connell, James Pett, Fukiko Takase, Po-Lin Tung and Jessica Wright. They well deserve the enthusiastic applause they earned.

Joanna G. Harris

James Pett and Fukiko Takase in Autobiography.















© Dave Morgan.