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Wayne McGregor, Random Dance Co Wayne McGregor, Random Dance Co
photo Michael Taylor
Wayne McGregor is a London-based choreographer and performer whose company, Random Dance Co, has a residency at The Place. He has been commissioned to create works by companies as diverse as Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company and the Birmingham Royal Ballet and has also done extensive choreographic work for theatre companies, film and advertising. He was one of 2 choreographers (the other being John Jasperse from the US) conducting workshops last July in Melbourne for Chunky Move’s Choreolab. The project attracted a broad range of participants including Michelle Heaven, Shaun McLeod, Kate Denborough, Alan Schacher, Sarah Neville and Fiona Cameron. I spoke to Wayne MacGregor halfway through his workshop.

EB How does the Choreolab model for this type of workshop compare with others you have been involved with overseas?

WM There are very diverse choreographic laboratory schemes in Europe. For example, a mentor might come in and work with choreographers and set tasks, and then they work with a group of dancers and that is evaluated—that’s quite a traditional model. Then there might be a mentor who works with a composer and you, as the participating choreographer, have to work with their kind of collaborative choreographic processes. Because I knew it was going to be quite a diverse group of choreographers here in Melbourne, I thought I needed to hone in on principles I work with which still give them enough scope to apply to their own work—a sketch of ideas that they can then take and develop in their own choreography. Some of those principles have just been movement-based interventions generating language and content for dance, and some have been formal concerns—how is it that you structure your vocabulary into a coherent language that communicates with an audience? And we’ve worked with technological interventions that are either computer, video or film-based to give a different perspective on ‘action’ and then develop that choreographically. For example, I have a 3D animation programme called Poser which I’ve used to create some choreography on the computer that has then become a resource for stimulating other choreography. We’ve also worked with digital film to look at the possibility of genuine retrograde—filming something and then looking back at it in slow-motion reverse and re-learning it, but still maintaining the original kinetic information.

EB How did you find the participants’ contributions to the workshop?

WM One of the reasons I like doing these workshops is because I’m not like this great choreographic master coming around and telling everybody how to do it, but because it’s a genuine dialogue you always learn from. For instance I might set a choreographic task or idea, and the participants’ practical solution to the question is completely different to mine. And I’ve really found that with this group which has been interesting for my choreographic development.

EB These types of workshops are still very rare in Australia—we don’t have a great tradition of choreographic workshopping or mentoring. How important do you think this sort of thing is for choreographers?

WM I think they’re completely vital. I don’t think it matters what stage of choreographic practice you are at, if you’re really experienced or haven’t done very much; an opportunity to research and develop outside your own practice is completely critical and that’s why I still keep doing them. I’ve recently done a choreographic workshop with Bob Cohan in London where he mentored me for 2 weeks. You have to choose the right time to do it for yourself—in the middle of creating a new work may not be the right time to do a choreographic research project with someone else, although sometimes it might be. If you don’t have opportunities to extend your process you become very myopic in your approach, and your work becomes very habitual.

EB Is there any difference that you found here in Australia—any qualities that seem unique?

WM There is definitely a hunger for the information and for giving things a go—a really positive attitude to that. I think it’s also clear that the people hadn’t really done that many choreographic workshops because the kind of analysis—the ways in which you talk about, evaluate and positively criticise the work—perhaps wasn’t as forthcoming as in other places where they’ve had a lot of experience at doing that. I think it’s a very hard thing—not only talking about your own work but somebody else’s in that kind of context. And I think the more we go on this week the more vocal they are becoming. Lots of people position themselves in relation to work and say they either like it or don’t, but this is about looking at the work in relation to the task and to see how far we’ve gone in fulfilling it.

EB How did you learn your choreographic skills?

WM I did a 3-year dance degree which was primarily focused on choreography and it really was a kind of ‘craft’ approach. So it wasn’t so much about innovation in relation to language but about the difference between form and content and how you structure language; a formal approach. It was almost like music training—a technical approach like music—where once you’ve got all that ammunition you can really subvert it and explode it. So, I did that and then I was at the José Limon School in New York and while I was there I was able to participate in a range of choreographic workshops with a lot of very different choreographers working in New York. I think the best way to learn about choreography is by doing it and that’s what Forsythe has written—that the only way to master choreography is through practice.

EB But here there is the economic problem of affording the bodies to work on and the space to work in; the opportunities to choreograph are few and far between for a lot of practitioners.

WM It’s interesting…in England a lot of young choreographers, and I’m not just saying they do this for experience, they work in community centres or with young people, and that’s in no way a compromise. It’s actually testing choreographic ideas in a very valid way. And I still do a lot of that work myself—we have a large educational and community program and that’s not to get funding to do other work, it’s actually an opportunity for choreographic investigation. And it may not be—technically—what you are after, but choreographically I’m able to test something new every time. I find the more I do that, the more it’s informed my work.

EB One of the big problems we have here is dancers making the transition to choreography without any real incentive beyond that of creating opportunities to perform. This seems to be due to the small amount of company positions for dancers in relation to the number of dance graduates.

WM I’m sure that’s a problem. In England there are 400 dance companies so a professional dancer has the opportunity to work with a range of very good choreographers, so I guess that’s a big difference. I think it’s a really hard transition and, as a choreographer, you really have to have something to say. For a lot of dancers it’s just the idea of being a choreographer that’s appealing, and that’s not an idea in itself. There has to be a real burning passion to communicate. I do know a lot of dancers who’ve gone through that transition and worked really hard at it and produced not such great work in the beginning, but through real tenacity and work have been able to develop good choreography. But I think dancers can leave companies too early; they think it would be much better to be the figurehead, but it’s a completely different job. A choreographic workshop like this is a great opportunity for young dancers to try it out and get new perspectives and information and openings without exposing themselves to audiences and critics.

EB What was your knowledge of the Australian dance scene before you came over?

WM I didn’t know much—I’d done some work with Company in Space and had really loved that—their use of new technology and development of new software and ideas of presence are really exciting. And my development director, Sophie Hansen, used to live in Melbourne so she gave me a lot of information about the scene here. But we don’t get to see a lot of Australian work in London—the last thing I saw was Meryl Tankard. I think our assumptions are that it’s very American post-moderny, quite traditional in its form. Or we know the real flashy companies like Sydney Dance Company. But it’s been a real eye-opener being here, seeing some of Gideon’s work on video, talking to people and seeing that really innovative things are happening here. The profile isn’t massive but the work is here.

Choreolab 1999, presented by Chunky Move, July 26 - August 6

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 30

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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