Dance review

Wayne McGregor / Random Dance performs at the Byham

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The real beauty of dance, in all of its otherworldliness, comes from the different meanings that it presents to each member of the audience. Because they draw perspectives from their own lives in conjunction with the performance, these viewers’ opinions are always relevant.

But Wayne McGregor l Random Dance, an encyclopedic homage to movement and a fitting finale to one of Pittsburgh Dance Council’s most exciting seasons, may have created the ultimate array for individual expression and consumption.

Saturday night’s Byham Theater presentation of “FAR” drew its primary inspiration (and abbreviated title) from medical historian Roy Porter’s vaunted exploration of the 18th century and the emergence of “Flesh in the Age of Reason.”

But then, Mr. McGregor’s output could also be viewed historically. He is expanding the notion of the body and its limits, a continuation of the thread that George Balanchine began when he moved from the traditional center axis of the body and where William Forsythe took it even further. Mr. McGregor is on the cusp of a current trend that takes movement to new extremes, here stretching the body to abject angles, hips and ribs almost askew, ripples coursing through the spine.

It’s dense and, at times, almost too much information. What sets him apart from the others of his generation is the foundation of his creativity, stemming from scientific exploration in the relationship of the mind to the body (and soul). We saw “AtaXia” in 2006, which stemmed from a neurological disorder of the legs and trunk, rendering those afflicted with a lack of voluntary coordination.

That ballet inspired a whole new dance vocabulary, though, and a style that has helped “FAR” take his choreographic journey, yes, even further. Yet it might be condensed to simply the essence of gray matter.

Sporting Ben Frost’s score, wide-ranging from Vivaldi to animal grunts, this brainy ballet also had a computerized silvery pin board with 3,200 LED lights that not only floated up and down, but could evoke both a single star and a heavenly configuration or convert to a digital counter.

The dancers, economically clad in no-nonsense shades of gray (the better to see them in all of their splendor) wore the movement almost lovingly, like a second skin.

That movement contained an unwavering procession of kinetic images, all of uncommon originality. Beginning with four flame-carrying sentries, there was a beautifully constructed duet, where the torches were extinguished one by one.

Much of the opening sequences centered around solos, conveying the Enlightenment emphasis on the individual. Gradually Mr. McGregor introduced a few groups. But it wasn’t until the end of the hour-long work that he gave his ensemble powerful unison phrases.

Along the way, viewer could interpret many things -- creatures, aliens, a brief reference to ataxia in a male duet, where the ribs and pelvis fashioned a loping, off-kilter series of movements.

As drenched as “FAR” was in the intellectualism of its premise, Mr. McGregor seemed to arrive at his conclusion during a final duet where the dancers were reaching out to touch each other, reverting from science to a decidedly human and more humane nature, yet leaving the verdict up to us.

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at

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