Company Wayne McGregor: the final performance of FAR

Catarina Carvalho is carried on the shoulders of Alexander Whitney. One leg bent over his shoulder, the other extends completing the diagonal line begun by his outstretched arm.

Catarina Carvalho and Alexander Whitley in FAR. (c) Ravi Deepres, 2010

Last week Company Wayne McGregor returned to the Arts Depot Finchley in North London with FAR, choreographed by McGregor for the company in 2010.

McGregor is one of the most intellectual choreographers of his generation. His work is the result of thoughtful interrogation of a theme, a concept, a process. In FAR McGregor is true to form, exploring the scientific and philosophical questions posed by the Enlightenment, specifically the eighteenth century French Encyclopedie edited by Diderot. This work was a direct challenge to religious authority. A radical secularisation of knowledge with rationality, observation and accuracy firmly at its centre, it aimed to change the way people thought. And it did.

McGregor seeks to change the way one thinks about the human body. And he does. His choreography with its characteristic hyperextension and rotation, staccato angularity, rippling fluidity and soaring expansiveness is a unique blend of movement which is instantly recognisable. He creates not just his own vocabulary, but his own universe. In this universe he pushes the human body to the outermost edges of possibility. And the intellect and the spirit soar.

FAR begins with the stage illuminated by the warm, golden glow of light cast by four hand-held torches. Light and shadow flicker and dance on the stage. As old conceptualisations give way to new, the torches are extinguished and replaced by a computerised pin-board of 3,200 LED lights. McGregor frequently makes use of striking lighting design to both echo and expand the concepts he explores. Here, set design is by Random International with lighting by his frequent collaborator Lucy Carter. Set to a score by Ben Frost, FAR features ten dancers who meet, merge, then separate developing and transmitting thought in couples, trios, and larger groups. Solo dancers break away as concepts and physical gestures fragment off.

McGregor uses movement as a tool of communication more effectively than most. As anyone who has witnessed him rehearsing his dancers can attest, phrasing is a vital part of that communication. In rehearsal he chants and verbalises the push and pull of the steps, imprinting the dynamic onto the dancers’ bodies. His phrasing is both fluid and razor sharp and this process imparts an urgency to the performance.

FAR will now retire from the Company’s repertoire. McGregor is quite simply brilliant and his prolific output ensures there is no shortage of excellent work to perform. The Enlightenment represented a period in thought, now past. Philosophers, scientists and thinkers have grown and moved on. So too McGregor grows and moves on. He has consigned FAR to history. But I will miss it.