For choreographer Wayne McGregor, dance isn't just a way to show what the body can do. It's a way to learn about it.
His studio is "more like a laboratory," says Odette Hughes, associate director at his London-based company Wayne McGregor | Random Dance. "When we're in the studio with him and the dancers it's a time for him to experiment."
This weekend, Mr. McGregor will bring one of his creations to Pittsburgh for the first time in more than five years. His troupe of 10 dancers will stage "FAR" Saturday at Byham Theater, Downtown, to close the Pittsburgh Dance Council's 2013-14 season.
Wayne McGregor | Random Dance closes Dance Council season
Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, a London-based company, will perform "FAR" Saturday at Byham Theater. The performance will close Pittsburgh Dance Council's 2013-14 season. (4/23/2014)
Mr. McGregor's career has been prosperous and varied, enabling him to gain attention (and praise) from a mix of industries. He has choreographed works for several ballet companies, including Paris Opera Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and is the resident choreographer of The Royal Ballet in London. He also has choreographed for fashion shows, plays, art galleries, music videos and musicals and directed movement for films such as "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."
In 1992, he founded Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, the resident company of Sadler's Wells. With this group he challenges his creativity in ways he might not always be able to when serving as a guest choreographer. Rather than feeding dancers a series of steps to repeat, he shares with them images, text and sounds to stimulate creative movement or gives them "problems that they solve physically," Ms. Hughes says.
"It's really interesting to see how each individual solves the same task."
Because of this, dancers with both sharp technique and intellect from across the world are sought during auditions.
"They have to have this something special," she says. "They have to be really keen and eager to challenge themselves."
For "FAR," Mr. McGregor was inspired by Roy Porter's book "Flesh in the Age of Reason" on the Age of Enlightenment and the early autopsies and steps scientists took to understand the body in new ways. Mr. McGregor read passages from the book to the dancers and showed them graphic images, including ones of early autopsy tools, to spark their movement.
To further understand how the body works, he invites cognitive scientists into the studio to film rehearsals.
"They are really interested in how he comes up with these ideas for creating tasks ... and how they execute those tasks and how they execute those differently," Ms. Hughes says.
At the end of each day, the scientists interview the dancers about why they made the movement choices they did, and in turn they offer dancers ideas on how they can identify and break out of habitual movement patterns.
Technology also has come to be another essential component of Mr. McGregor's choreography. A panel of more than 3,000 LED lights acts as "the 11th dancer" in "FAR" and is responsive to sound, footsteps and even dancers' breath. The piece is set to original music by Ben Frost and runs about an hour.
"Aesthetically it looks beautiful," Ms. Hughes says. The audience "can go away and create any story that they would like to take away from it."
Sara Bauknecht: email@example.com or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.