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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 1 AUGUST 2011 — Wayne Mcgregor is currently the golden boy of British dance who made a name for himself with his physically exhausting movements and his collaborations across dance with film, computer technology and the sciences. Made a Research Fellow in the Department of Experimental psychology at Cambridge University in 2004, his 2006 creation, Chroma, opened doors for him and paved the way to his position of Resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet later the same year. He was the first contemporary choreographer to obtain this post. Since then he has been showered with awards, including the prestigious title of Commander of the British Empire for his contribution to dance, and he is much in demand from most of the major international companies throughout the world.

However, with L’Anatomie de la Sensation, his second work for the Paris Opera Ballet, he branched away from all his radical technological aids, concentrating on pure movement. The work is directly inspired, he says, by the paintings of the Irish artist, Francis Bacon (1909 -1992), but Bacon’s fascinating canvases in the Tate Gallery in London have a powerful, violent almost repulsive beauty. They disturb; bodies decompose and whole civilisations are stifled and suffocated. Moreover, there is the magnificence and brilliance of his palette, the vivid oranges he loved so well, the pungent blues and mauves, the shrieking pinks and yellows, the acidity of his greens. The work that McGregor created for the Paris Opera Ballet reflected none of this.   

Wayne Mcgregor: L’Anatomie de la Sensation
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: A.Deniau

The programme claims the British choreographer attempted to "shed light on the forces of life and death alike that run through Bacon’s paintings". And while this might be a laudable goal in itself, it failed. If one had not read about the piece beforehand, the work itself gives little indication of what it is about and neither is the audience helped along by the scenery. John Pawson’s minimalist and disappointing decor, giant- sized black and white panels dominating the Opera Bastille’s stage, bore no correlation to Bacon’s vision.

L’Anatomie de la Sensation, which is composed of eight movements, began with a duo between Mathias Heymann and Jerémie Belingard  set to a score by Mark Antony Turnage entitled, Blood on the Floor, after Bacon’s painting of the same name. This is the closest we get to Bacon, as the two brilliant interpreters, divesting themselves of their clothes, their young, muscled bodies clad in shorts, began a complex series of movements, rotating, gyrating, spinning and rolling around each other. From time to time, Heymann, the more ‘classical’ of the two, was allowed a spectacular jump in the air. This promised well, but then went nowhere. What was Mcgregor saying? Where was he going?  The dancers’ arms shot out at jerky angles and their feet and legs slashed in the air, as bemused spectators admired the personal beauty of the dancers, but little else.

The solo which followed, interpreted by Marie-Agnès Gillot, one of the most impressive contemporary dancers today, took no account of either her dramatic capabilities or her technique. What was she supposed to be, slithering around on the floor, curling up and around herself, reminiscent of a small insect rather than illustrating an emotion from a painting? The uncomfortable positions imposed upon her, the back movements in a letter S were painful indeed to watch, and her duo with Audric Bézard, undistinguished.

Wayne Mcgregor: L’Anatomie de la Sensation
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: A.Deniau

The best part of the evening was the pas de deux interpreted by Alice Renavand and Josua Hoffalt, and it was no surprise that most of it was danced in silence; the hallmark of this creation being it’s unmusicality, whether intended or not. Renavand and Hoffalt possess expressive, supple bodies, and they and they alone, seemed to enjoy what they were dancing. They also benefitted from mauve and acid green lighting on the panels which contributed to the atmosphere.

There was also a certain atmosphere in the fifth movement, with three go-go dancers in a disco, but it was, to quote from French, "hair in the soup". Did Bacon like jazz clubs? Were spectators aware of this? Even the last movement with the whole cast, quasi-naked, on stage seemed bitty, confused, and disconnected from the rest. Possibly one of the criticisms of Mcgregor’s work is that, not having studied classical dance himself, he does not understand a dancer’s body or what to do with it. His famous sharp, speedy, disarticulated gesticulating is better suited to his own lean and lanky frame. His broken angles, jutting out chins and fractured movements totally lacking in grace need the rubber joints and boneless physiques of circus acrobats.

It is also the speed, not of his dance, but of the number of his creations that is becoming alarming. It is maybe the reason for the repetitive nature of this particular work, for, though many sequences began differently, in the end, they all seemed the same. The work, a mere one hour fifteen minutes, dragged even with the luminous presence of Aurélie Dupont,  and the only sensation one felt was relief that it was all over.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She last wrote on The Last Testament of Pina Bausch

Headline image: Wayne Mcgregor
Photo: A.Deniau

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