by Rachel Beaumont

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Long and apparently random: Autobiography at Sadler's Wells

Company Wayne McGregor
Sadler's Wells
First Circle L22, £20
4 October 2017
Sadler's Wells page

When I told David Autobiography was inspired by Wayne McGregor's genome he joked 'So it will be long and apparently random?' This turned out to be an accurate summary.

McGregor famously takes care on the selection of his collaborators and rightly so. As with all McGregor works, Autobiography includes many cool components. In some works these coalesce into a whole greater than the sum – Woolf Works, or Tree of Codes. Sometimes they do not. Autobiography falls into the latter category.

So there is some very cool dancing; there is quite cool music (not credited on the Sadler's Wells website but I believe by Jlin); there is the usual lighting sorcery from Lucy Carter. The designs didn't do much for me, but that's ok. Is there more than that?

A Guardian interview quotes dramaturg Uzma Hameed (does an abstract ballet really need a dramaturg) explaining the ballet's structure: 'a number of choreographic events from the 23 volumes in the "life library" are selected and sequenced afresh for every performance by an algorithm based on McGregor's genetic code.' So we have super-duper aleatoricism. This is cool. But how does it effect the experience of watching the ballet?

Perhaps this will change, but as this stage I would say its main impact is to add stress to some already stressed dancers. The sense of disjointedness is I think compounded by McGregor's habitual indifference to the music. In this set-up, the chances of the choreography responding interestingly to the (very rhythmically interesting) music and the dancers nailing that, given they've only recently found out they'll be dancing that combination, are low. Across McGregor's oeuvre there are numerous moments when dance, music, design and verbiage come together to thrilling effect, but there were none of those in this performance of Autobiography.

There was also some bugbear prodding that perhaps shut me off from the thrills. I admired Jlin's music but 90 minutes of it at reasonably high decibels was verging on an onslaught. Carter's lighting didn't verge but went for full-on slaughter, her cool lasers from Woolf Works now directed into the auditorium and periodically winking incredibly bright lights into your brain. For two minutes it was cool, thereafter horrendous.

Bugbears aside, Autobiography provoked in me nothing stronger than admiration, fading to boredom in the last third. I'm saddened by this quotation from McGregor in that interview: 'You want perturbers, people to upset your way of working. It has to take you somewhere new or there’s no point.' Despite all the exciting thinking behind the scenes, Autobiography looks exactly like a McGregor ballet usually does, minus the best bits.

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