If Heston Blumenthal made theatrical work, it probably wouldn’t be too different to UNDANCE (although probably lacking in the same skill and detail that this programme exhibited.) In this brand new collaboration between Mark-Anthony Turnage, Wayne McGregor and Mark Wallinger, technology and the arts were combined in a dance/music experiment that provided some stunning results.
For the first half of this programme, audience members donned 3D glasses for the operatic Twice Through the Heart which used text by Jackie Kay and was composed by Mark-Anthony Turnage. This piece follows the story of a woman who kills her husband with a kitchen knife whilst defending herself against his physical and mental abuse. However, she fails to say this in court, so is given a very long prison sentence. Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly tells of her very bleak future in everyday language whilst 3D projections float around her. They differ between clear images of her previous life and blurring, illegible shapes as if to suggest that any hope of reclaiming her former existence is slowly turning to dust and then clinging residually to her cell walls. These holograms completely put a barrier between her and the audience, making this solitary figure look even more trapped and helpless. Directed by McGregor, this performance was beautifully executed and not over-dramatised.
Tracing back the line of inspiration for UNDANCE, a shiny new multimedia-full collaboration, we’re brought to Mark Wallinger who produced text based on sculptor Richard Serra’s Verb List and the work of photographer Eadweard J. Muybridge. These were given to Mark-Anthony Turnage to create the score, which in turn, provided a scenario for Wayne McGregor to choreograph from. Phew!
The piece starts with the dancers lined up across the stage (and a screen showing a Muybridge-inspired grid which has been known to aid artists’ desire for verisimilitude). Pre-recorded versions of them either pre-empt the section of movement we’re about to see or join in shortly after the live onstage dancers.
The dancers use deliberate and considered movement, placing a partner or a limb nearer or further away, winding towards or away from someone or something. Accumulated duets and trios performed at the same time that reflected short variants of each other’s material made the ensemble look like a large organism of bodies. Although this huge array of movement was performed twice (including the screen version) at different times, you never felt as if it was too much to watch, and was actually completely coherent; you could either take everything in at once or naturally fix your gaze on a specific area.
This collaboration clearly influenced the choreographic results. There were still hints of McGregor’s trademark, what I believe to be, hyper-extended and slightly birdlike movement, yet with a different, more pedestrian quality. Happily, you’re still given a chance to see the type of movement that you want to watch dancers of this calibre perform. I’d gladly watch Random dancers tackle the simplest of movement, just to see how they did it. Luckily for us (and them), McGregor is still throwing exciting material at his company.