Review: AUTOBIOGRAPHY (V95 AND V96) - COMPANY WAYNE MCGREGOR, Sadler's Wells

Does it work? In a word, or three: yes and no.

By: Mar. 13, 2024
Review: AUTOBIOGRAPHY (V95 AND V96) - COMPANY WAYNE MCGREGOR, Sadler's Wells
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Review: AUTOBIOGRAPHY (V95 AND V96) - COMPANY WAYNE MCGREGOR, Sadler's Wells

Wayne McGregor has been working with digital intelligence in relation to creativity since 2017, and why not? This is the digital age after all. Who needs humans?!

His 2017 Autobiography (1.0) was about manipulation of existing material in relation to structure, whereas 2024's Autobiography (v95 and v96) has taken a slightly more questionable route.

McGregor has worked with the Google Arts & Culture Lab who've developed an AI-powered tool called Living Archive (AISOMA) which takes his canon to date and suggests “new, original movement phrases based on McGregor’s existing choreography and material” - confused? Well there's more…as the 2024 iteration also uses an algorithm devised in 2017 based on McGregor’s DNA as creative fodder. 

Autobiography (v95 and v96) is being presented twice, v95 last night (12/03/24) and v96 (13/03/24) this evening. As numbered differently, the works performed won't be repetitions; each performance “re-imagines and remakes itself anew.” I have my own issue with work that doesn't have a defined, choreographic text, but that's for another time.

Concerning the lived experience: if you aren't aware of all the above pre-show, does one just see what's presented as dance for dance's sake? Or if versed…can one let go of that niggling question: who actually choreographed this? Man or machine…

Contemplated through another medium: if a writer used the Autobiography creative theory in practice, I believe they'd be ripped to shreds, professionally speaking, and the end product would likely be gibberish - which is of course, another man’s stream of consciousness. So what makes it all a feasible option in dance? And does it work?

Review: AUTOBIOGRAPHY (V95 AND V96) - COMPANY WAYNE MCGREGOR, Sadler's Wells
Jacob-O'Connell and Jessica-Wright

In a word, or three: yes and no. In reality it's a long 80 minutes, but I'd assume for the masses it's a winner. Personally, it offered ample time to observe and contemplate McGregor, and the overall feeling is still a mixed one.

McGregor states he's been released from the “burden of creating with the “audience” in mind”, which might be the case, but for his collaborators, less so.

The content is peak Sadler’s fare from the verging on aggressive, electronic score by Jlin pumped out so loud one's ears want to bleed, Lucy Carter's uber hip lighting design communicating Las Vegas via the Hayward Gallery and the minimalist, movable pyramid roofing by set designer Ben Cullen Williams.

The overall work has numerous vignettes ranging from intimate delicacy to confrontation, all punctuated by a projection at the start of each structured section. Here we see both a random number assigned and one, to a few word descriptions: nature, remember, traces etc.

McGregor offers masses, verging on gluttony, which means by the end it's difficult to decipher between appreciation, feeling overfaced and the beginnings of exhaustion.

Movement wise we see many influences on show; uber extension à la whack, danse d'école petit allegro and the shaping of Bharatanatyam.

The most impressive aspect is the dancers and their sense of expanse. Everything McGregor (or...?) gives them they devour to the maximum potential. Kinespheres being constantly questioned, and most keenly - the action of dancing ‘beyond the toe’. When this physical exploration is demanded by the choreography, or perhaps inspires it, it's truly riveting to watch.

Considering all the chat and research about newness in the moment, it isn't how the piece reads at all. The evening is one of slickness and well rehearsed performances, especially in relation to skilled partnering work, which we see in numerous duos and trios, and complex group numbers with precise manoeuvres and spacing, all suggesting awareness and premeditation. So I'm unsure whether these observations are a compliment to the cast, or in fact a big fail in relation to the piece's overall intention. Who knows the answer? McGregor perhaps? Or maybe the artificial intelligence software…

Autobiography (v95 and v96) is at Sadler's Wells on 13 March

Photo credit: Andrej Uspenski




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