Figures in a Landscape

Wayne McGregor on Harry Potter and a dance inspired by the Age of Enlightenment

Written by Dipanita Nath | Updated: December 13, 2017 12:00:02 am
Wayne McGregor's landscape A scene from FAR

Wayne McGregor, dressed in black, with a square ring in one finger, has a dancer’s style of demonstrating his words. Arms slithering outward, he says, “I have a long body that fractures movement in a particular way. There are things I can articulate through the limbs of my body because it folds in interesting ways.” He is tall and thin and his movements have a snake-like vitality. “If you think your fingers end where your fingers literally end, that’s one way to think about your body. I think of my fingers ending over there, at the end of the room, at the wall. Now, if I think my body is extended cognitively, I am able to work in a larger dimension instead of a narrow dimension limited by the space of this physical body.” On stage, this translates into body extensions and tendril-like arms and legs, a part of McGregor’s dance vocabulary that will be seen in the work, FAR, at Kamani Auditorium on December 13 and 14.

McGregor, a CBE, is one of UK’s trailblazing choreographers though Potterheads know him better as movement director on Goblet of Fire and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. “Eighty per cent of our communication is through the body and 20 per cent is through words. When working with the Death Eaters, we had questions like ‘how do they move’ and ‘how they fly through space’?” he says, before holding forth on the power of films. An active child from Manchester in the UK, he started dancing because of movies such as Saturday Night Fever and Greece. “John Travolta is in these and I wanted to learn dancing like that. I was about eight years old,” he says.

FAR elucidates McGregor’s long-time concerns. “What we are looking at is two deaths in FAR. We are looking at a kind of death of a particular thought and knowledge and, moving through light, into a completely different idea of what a body might be. Is a body just a collection of atoms that can be disintegrated and reformed in any form?” he says. The piece is based on a book, Flesh in the Age of Reason, about the relationship of the mind and the body. “There isn’t a story in FAR. There are multiple narratives and you have to sit there and think, ‘What do I see’ and not ‘what does it mean?’ Eventually, a meaning emerges. You’ll see a body that is behaving in an unfamiliar way and that challenges your perception of what a body is,” says McGregor.

FAR follows the choreographer’s penchant for merging art and science, seen in works such as Chroma (2006), about the body’s ability to communicate extremes of thought and emotion, and his latest, Autobiography, for which he had researchers in Norway sequence his genome. “They give you a massive data set, which is four letters in different orders. Autobiography uses machine learning to hijack the data and organises the piece in real time so that the dance is never the same twice,” he says. FAR is in collaboration with neuroscientists. “We talk about dance being intuitive or instinctive but, when I am thinking about making choreography, I am not simply going in there and doing it. I have a mental model that I try to find a mode of expression for. I thought that cognitive neuroscience would help me find a different understanding of how the body and the brain work together. It has been an amazing rich field and we have been working on it for 13 years,” he says. “I think embodiment is a process of physical thinking and the relationship between what’s firing in the mind to what’s firing chemically in the body is fascinating. I think that’s why I am obsessed with it. It will be a lifetime’s exploration,” he adds.

FAR, in association with British Council, will be held at Kamani Auditorium on December 13 and 14. Time: 7 pm. Tickets: Rs 500-Rs 1,500

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