151014 / FAR by Wayne McGregor
My anticipation for FAR as four flames heated up the excitement of the night was directly proportional to my disappointment as the work progressed into light. FAR was undeniably enticing, but beyond marginally disappointing.
Wayne McGregor’s style has become all too familiar, all too expected, albeit the shift from working on Royal Ballet dancers, with which he is Resident Choreographer of. In FAR, although his ten Random Dancers brought a fresh fluidity into his boilerplate movement vocabulary– a balletic bottom and a lucid top, it was still unscrew and relocate to next work. It is indisputable that they were technically flawless and breathtaking, but the night lacked gradation and diffused into eventual monotony.
FAR is inspired by, and is an acronym for Roy Porter’s inordinate history of 18th century mind- body explorations in Flesh in the Age of Reason. As a result, the work revolves around the Age of Enlightenment, portrayed through the transition from the primitive to the au courant.
The raw luminescence from the blazing flames lights the suspense of the night, coupled with Cecilia Bartoli’s hauntingly enchanting lament as Louis McMiller and Daniela Neugebauer engage in an exploratory pas de deux, discovering each other through a series of animalistic nuzzling. Gradually, the dancers leave the stage with their burning torches, removing reminiscence of the past simplicity and sending an invitation for the future. The circuit board in the backdrop starts shimmering, before the last flame diminishes and we are plunged into pitch darkness, excepting the dim, blinking LED lights that grow brighter and brighter by the second, and then casting an alluring pattern of shadows on the light board.
Initially, the dancers’ precision and unimaginable manoeuvring succeeds in captivating wide eyes, and a row leaning forward in their seats. The ethereal flexibility and speed challenge the boundaries of the human body, just as the Age of Enlightenment accosted the limits of the human mind.
An aggressive partnering between Michael John-Harper and Louis McMiller evokes a sense of urgency, emphasised by the use of jumps and contact. This starts a tumult of human limbs, until a sudden flash from the magnificent 3200 LED lights on the circuit board break them apart, signifying the development of the era that has caused more disparity in human nature. Here, McGregor’s apt use of minute arm movements to create geometric shapes as silhouettes against the flickering sea of light brings life to the work. In this sense, the cerebral beauty of FAR is accentuated by his dancers’ impeccable precision.
Regrettably, as the piece progresses from a semblance of chaos to eventual harmony, the antecedent wonderment dims and we are put in a trance of repetition. The dancers continuously traject their legs upwards to close in a seamless scissor snap, and perform duplicated lithe pirouettes, alongside other balletic movements that soon become a dreary litany in projected horizontal planes of light. It seems our only respite is the series of breathtaking grande jetés by Fukiko Takase that break us out of our hypnoses.
The inexplicable delicacy of the dancers’ movements was also undermined by the unimpressive lighting, falling short of our high expectations. In juxtaposition with the spine-tingling lighting in McGregor’s previous works, FAR’s minimalistic circuit board turned out to be a disappointment, what with the board’s comparatively minute movement vertically. This left it prosaic and slightly bland. The main factor for this is its awkward size, barely spreading 3-quarters of the stage. The result was an out-of-place backdrop, resembling a lost ship in a vast ocean. Nonetheless, the count up to 1000 and down from 999 999 like a digital Geiger counter was a provocative touch to the work, signifying both time and radiation count, as technology advanced with breakthroughs in nuclear power. Given the limited resources Carter was acquiesced with, her designs did move the piece along rather commendably.
It can be said that the subtle intensity of FAR resembles an uphill climb. Although progressing slowly, it can be strenuous and tedious for the audience at times. This compelling work is also crippled by Ben Frost’s original music, although striving to be techno and avant-garde, brought association to a slightly disturbing scene: of a vociferous highway in 7pm traffic with distressed children and bleating goats stamping on car hoods, causing static signals in the cars’ radios. The music was a disarray of all this happening concomitantly– interesting, but not enhancing the movement.
Despite all the letdowns, FAR ends on a satisfying note, with a woman’s body reduced to a prostrate state on the ground, while a man backs away from her cautiously. The circuit board rises, still flickering chillingly, and the curtains come down in a reverentially cataclysmic closure.
Ultimately, the provocative concept and theory behind McGregor’s FAR fails to translate into an equally intellectual 61-minutes’ worth of movement. Ironically, the paradoxical blend of the Random Dancers’ exquisite bodies and surreal manoeuvring, with FAR’s eventual monotony leaves me in a psychedelic hypnosis I am, quite frankly, unwilling to snap out of.