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Posted on Sun, Feb 19, 2012 : 8:36 a.m.

Random Dance at Power Center: impressive, but to what end?

By Susan Isaacs Nisbett

The company may be called Random Dance, but those were no random dancers on the stage of Power Center Saturday evening. Catarina Carvalho. Benjamin Ord. Davide Di Pretoro. Michael-John Harper. Paolo Mangiola. Daniela Neugebauer. Anna Nowak. Fukiko Takase. Alexander Whitley. Jessica Wright. Legs with the tensile strength of steel, shooting out like arrows. Backs that spill like streams of water, torsos that eddy and ripple like rubber.

And clearly, no one has told Wayne McGregor, Commander of the British Empire and artistic director of this 10-member British troupe, that he should not bend, fold or mutilate these gorgeous creatures.

Indeed, the ways in which the body can be distorted, twisted, creased, folded and bent are central to “FAR,” the 60-minute dance with which his company made its University Musical Society debut on Saturday.

The 2010 dance, and its acronymic title, took its cues from movement explorations prompted by Roy Porter’s book on the Enlightenment, “Flesh and the Age of Reason.” (McGregor is credited with “concept and direction;” the choreography is McGregor’s in collaboration with the dancers.)

You could say that “FAR” fast forwards the anatomical investigations of the Enlightment from the operating theater to the stage, and from the 18th century to the 21st. Indeed there is the sense that the dance, which begins with torch-bearing dancers and a recording of a mezzo (I think Cecilia Bartoli) singing “Sposa son disprezzata,” from Vivaldi’s opera “Bajazet,” toggles between the 18th century and the present.

As the last notes of the aria sound, they don’t die away. Rather, they’re amplified, and reverb becomes static—auditory and visual, too, as a large rectangular light installation, by rAndom International (no relation to the company), blinks to life behind the dancers. We’re not in the 18th century anymore. The lights, LEDs that form fantastic patterns and cast equally fantastic shadows; and the whomping whooshing-noise music, composed by Ben Frost, tell us that, loud and clear.

So does the dancing. In the opening section, the music is warm, if sorrowing, and the choreographic focus is a duet for a man and woman; their eyes are as glued on each other as their bodies are pressed and glued together. It is stunning, evocative.

But with the warp-shift in music and lights, the choreography cools to the temperature of the grays and blacks and whites of the simple costumes (by Moritz Junge) and the dim perma-frost of the lighting design (by Lucy Carter). The dancers, in solos, duets, trios and larger ensembles, seem to move alone, no matter how many are on stage. Isolation is pervasive, from muscle groups to human groups.

If isolation is numbing, so, too, is the choreography; for all its invention, it feels repetitive and without much direction after the stunning opening and transition. The music, something of an assault, pushes the listener away, too, but that would seem to be Frost’s intention here.

The vocabulary of “FAR” is strange and remarkable. But the chapters and arc of the story McGregor has crafted in “FAR” are not nearly so sharply traced.


Bob Beckley

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 3:49 p.m.

UMS is to be commended for bringing A2 performances that push the envelope. Random Dance did that in extraordinary fashion. For me the performance was not just about dance but was a wedding of movement, light and sound. The dance world moved beyond story telling many decades ago. Random Dance demands more of dance. "FAR" is about the entire visual and aural field that one can produce on a stage. There were ample opportunities for one to make up a narrative if that was what a viewer needed to be satisfied. I, on the other hand, enjoyed the pure abstraction of this performance.

Nancy Szabo

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

I couldn't agree more. I was truly impressed by the movement vocabulary that McGregor has created. Something new in dance is hard to do, in my opinion. I think he's created a new way of moving, of dancers getting from point A to point B, of the way dancers relate to each other. They felt like creatures to me, not humans. Which brings me to my main point: the piece left me cold. The dancers presented practically no sense of humanity or individuality. And what, indeed, was the point of the whole thing? The program notes were taken from a newspaper article and shed no light on the purpose or meaning behind the choreography. I think the UMS "Renegade" series is a great idea, but we need a bit more humanity in what we see, don't you think?