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Review of Wayne McGregor – Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells

Wayne McGregor - Image by Ben Cullen Williams
Wayne McGregor – Image by Ben Cullen Williams

What you need to know about this contemporary dance work, Autobiography, is that the visuals are sublime, that’s its ten dancers are superb and that it’s choreographer, creator and director, Wayne McGregor CBE is a very important and questing creative in the best of international dance. Be it with his own Company Wayne McGregor, as here, or with the Royal Ballet, for whom he is the resident choreographer or any of his other multimedia projects.

Do not expect a conventional narrative. This is a work about a life but not in a time sequence. Instead, it’s a product of McGregor’s own genome sequence analysed by the Genetics Clinic of the Future, the DNA blueprint of which forms the basis for 23 dance sequences, some of which will be chosen by an algorithm to be performed in varying orders so every performance is different. Science dictating art. By a form of chance, so vital in life.

The scientific theory being described here is that each cell of your body carries in it the whole blueprint of your life. That ‘your genetic code tells the story of your past – and predicts possible stories of your future.‘ Your possible fates.

It’s a bold, brave concept, meaning there is not a flow between scenes, rather a sense of separation, which can be disorientating, with sometimes too much dissonance as repetition. The music by Jlin is staccato too in tone as the algorithm threads its chosen pieces together, occasionally introducing birdsong and voices echoing as if in a dream but sometimes a nightmare wall of screams (uncomfortably loud on the first night). The beauty of this work it must be said is mostly in the visuals.

And there are marvellous scenes to be appreciated. Wayne McGregor’s lighting designer, Lucy Carter producing stunning effects. There was a pas de deux as if through space, all sense of solid ground being lost. A gavotte among fluorescent green. There was a recurring theme of prisms appeared in an otherwise mostly empty set. On the first night, the finale was stunning for its lighting, sweeping also through the audience to break the wall between us and the stage, creating corridors and spaces for the dancers to move through as if they were beautiful ghosts. (This was a miracle of effect spoilt, specifically on the very first night by the rapidly moving lights becoming occasionally glaring so as to prevent us being able to see the dancers from the First Circle at Sadler’s.)

It’s clever work, fabulous craft but perhaps connecting largely aesthetically rather than emotionally. Perhaps this is a limitation of the dance sequences and therefore the music being chosen by the process of an algorithm rather than a human storyteller. In which case, Autobiography poses a conundrum through art pertinent to a human future which will undoubtedly be increasingly influenced by Artificial Intelligence.

4 stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

What does it mean to write your own life-story? For 25 years, Wayne McGregor has been making choreography that interrogates life through the experience of the body, moving intelligently in space and time. His practice has been far-reaching and sought out collaborators from a diverse range of artistic and scientific fields to investigate the nature of embodied cognition.

Now McGregor turns his attention to the body as an archive, as he embarks on a cycle of choreographic portraits illuminated by the sequencing of his own genome. The first of these studies, Autobiography, is an abstract meditation on aspects of self, life, writing, refracting both remembered pasts and speculative futures.

Palimpsesting McGregor’s choreographic imprint over personal memoir and genetic code in a continuous re-imagining, Autobiography unfolds uniquely for each and every performance. Life, writing itself anew.

Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R
4th to 7th October 2017


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