The Pittsburgh Dance Council concluded its 2013-2014 season with London company, Wayne McGregor/Random Dance. The international troupe featured ten performers from South Africa, Albania, Switzerland, and Poland, to name just a few places.
Far was an hour-long collaboration between McGregor, the dancers, and musician, Ben Frost. The set design was equally important, and included a large light board at the back of the stage, created by Random International.
During the group’s ten-week creative process, McGregor took inspiration from 20th century artist, Francis Bacon, and the Age of Enlightenment, a 17th century cultural movement of intellectuals that used rational thought to challenge religion and other traditions. Specifically, McGregor and the dancers analyzed the book Flesh in the Age of Reason and grotesque, figurative images by Bacon.
The paintings greatly influenced the movement, said Jamaican dancer, Michael-John Harper. He explained that Bacon’s work provoked them to “dig deep in their minds, and break habits to keep the choreography fresh and alive.”
Indeed, the piece had a freshness about it. The dancers clearly had a strong foundation in classical ballet. The first section, a prologue to the piece, resembled a modern pas de deux with long lines and seamless partnering. Interspersed, though, were snaky undulations of the spine and intricate gestures.
The light board gave its own show, at first faintly beaming like a starry sky, then erupting like a frenzied meteor shower. For much of the beginning, small sections of solos and duets occurred under that silvery glow. The sound was mostly dissonant, atmospheric; combined with the movement, the effect was somewhat animalistic.
During the middle of the piece, a group of women entered the stage under brighter light and to the accompaniment of a lilting female voice. The movement escalated in various solos, but retained the same liquid quality from earlier.
Eventually the men entered, partnering with the women. There were quick entrances and exits into the exposed wings as the sound turned eerie, almost frightening. The lighting became frantic, numbers flashing on the board as if counting down to something significant. Dancers huddled off to the side, watching and waiting for their turn.
As the piece progressed, moments of unison brought the performers together for brief interludes. The music became sinister, including sounds of animals screaming, and text sprinkled in but barely perceptible. The dancers seemed to be moved by an outside force, which gave the shape of the piece an otherworldly feel.
The movement slowed to a serene duet with effortless partnering, and light vocal accompaniment. To conclude the piece, one woman lay flat on her back as her partner walked off slowly. The light board flashed and fizzled. The sound faded and the curtains closed.
Dancer, Daniela Neugebauer, explained the work as a series of deaths, the end of an era. Far did have a dystopian quality. Perhaps our day and age is changing and a new time is upon us. For Wayne McGregor and his company, the future looks quite impressive.