Wayne McGregor's Random Dance dazzles with oddly beautiful Entity

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      A Wayne McGregor Random Dance production. A DanceHouse presentation. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Friday, February 10. No remaining performances

      Red-hot Brit choreographer Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance finally made its Vancouver debut on the weekend, and the show lived up to all the hype—in the least pandering way possible.

      While Entity is a thrilling contemporary-dance experience, it’s also wonderfully, mind-bendingly strange. The odd effect comes not just from its distorted, relentless movement, but from its almost clinical remove.

      McGregor, who splits time as resident choreographer at the Royal Ballet, sees Random Dance as his experimental playground. He created Entity with a team of neuroscientists, and was inspired by cognitive research about the mind-body connection as it applies to dance. So perhaps it’s no surprise that while watching his technically honed dancers lurch and twist about the stage, you rarely have any sense of character or emotion. This despite endless, dizzying partnering and the fact that the dancers are stripped down to sexy black briefs and skintight white tanks. Instead, they resemble perfectly sculpted specimens—part of a larger “entity”, maybe—moving about a giant petri dish. The sleek set, with its industrial panels that double as screens with projected mathematical formulas and recurring patterns from nature, adds to the laboratorylike atmosphere.

      This is what the state of the art looks like, folks, and it is by turns discomfiting, difficult, and beautiful—but never boring. In the 10-member piece, a group of men sidle across the stage, their bodies a zigzag of spines bent at 45 degrees one way, and hips jutting out the other. A man pries and pulls open the legs of a standing woman into splits, or wraps his limbs around her like human origami. Knees bend double-jointedly, arms hyperextend with hands curling awkwardly into claws, and a leg folds up into split-second lotus positions or juts stiffly out to one side as the dancer walks. During lifts, performers arch their backs and swoop upward, more like breaching dolphins than humans. Hints of this crack troupe’s classical technique surface occasionally—a glimpse of an arabesque here or a pirouette there—but McGregor distorts and rewires the movement (right from the cognitive level) into nothing that you’ve ever seen before.

      Composer Joby Talbot’s yearning yet angular strings provide the soundtrack for the first half, giving way to Massive Attack collaborator Jon Hopkins’s hard-edged, driving industrial electronica for the second. In both works, sounds build with almost mathematical patterns while, on-stage, solos melt into duos and trios, the dancers lined up on the sides of the stage, ever ready to step into action. They are perfect technical machines, like the greyhounds projected in the film footage that bookends the piece.

      At its best, Entity finds its dancers all crowded onto the stage in the harsh lighting, convulsing and flexing in ordered chaos—like microbes mutating before our eyes. So, in terms of science, it looks like evolution. But in terms of dance? Pure revolution.