Last week I went to see Wayne McGregor's company Random Dance perform at Yeba Beuna Arts Centre in San Francisco. If there's a lot of hype around stuff I usually stay away, hence my never having been to see Random Dance in the UK, but seeing this is America it felt different. I had been considering going but the tickets were expensive, then my friend offered me her ticket as she couldn't make but didn't want it to go to waste, so it seemed like fate, I decided I should finally educate myself on all that is Random. Honestly, on the rainy night that it was I would have rather kept my shoes dry and stayed at home.
I'm not saying that McGregor isn't deserving of all the attention and money that he receives, some people like that kind of work, it just wasn't my cup of tea in the slightest, and I find it interesting, and frustrating, when thinking about the fact that some people get such a big slice of the pie and others, who are equally as talented, or more so, get a slither. In such a subjective thing as 'the arts', and in this case specifically dance, how is there a fair way to decide how the money is dished out? And why do we focus so much energy and resources on a handful of people?
In the case of Random Dance it was for me a classic tale of a regular occurrence in art - what the artist says and what I see do not seem connected. There was a post show discussion and McGregor is clearly a highly intelligent man, dedicated to his creative practice and exploration. The concepts he talked about, such as 'physical thinking' in terms of setting his dancers problems and informing his own choreography by using how they solve the problems, rather than what they create, all suggests to explorative and creative choreography, but there were times when, momentarily side stepping the highly trained bodies, I thought, 'am I watching and A Level dance piece here?'
One thing I found quite distracting throughout the piece were the dancers strutting on to the stage every time they entered and exited. I found it forced and unnecessary, and therefore was really interested to hear what McGregor would answer when during the questions and answers session a man commented how (I can't remember his exact words) unique the dancer's walks had been and asked how much input McGregor had given to this. McGregor talked about each person having their own signature in movement and said 'I like having these pedestrian moments when the dancers walk on stage'. What?! I shouted in my head, so I was very pleased to hear the man in the audience reply (thank god for super confident America) 'there was nothing pedestrian about their walks! They were like Samba dancers!'. McGregor replied that this was the dancers' 'natural' walk and joked that he should get them out to do a parade to show this. Before the show I had been flicking through the program and recognised one of the dancers simply from doing class in London. And he did NOT enter the studio like he did the stage.
As a follow on question a second man in the audience went on to comment that he had noticed an 'antagonistic glare' between the dancers as they entered and exited, and if this had been McGregor's direction. Again McGregor joked about it and said 'tell me which ones glared!' and then quite seriously went on to tell the man that the audience quite often saw things through filters - things they had heard about the company, what they expected, and they often see what fits their ideas. And that its hard for audiences to view things neutrally. The difficulty of being a neutral viewer is of course a given - we bring our own histories to what we see, but as a choreographer how much was McGregor applying his own filters to what he saw and what he did, or didn't want to hear?
As some one who has made a few dance pieces, and hopes to make some more, I found it thought provoking to hear a successful choreographer who, in my humble opinion, was a little bit blind to what was happening on stage. It was a good lesson to me to always be sensitive and aware to what I want to happen, what is really happening and what the audience sees.