Random Dance goes to extremes in its Pittsburgh debut. | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Random Dance goes to extremes in its Pittsburgh debut.

click to enlarge Moving to extremes: Random Dance. Photo by Ravi Deepres
Moving to extremes: Random Dance. Photo by Ravi Deepres

His company's name notwithstanding, there is little random about choreographer Wayne McGregor's approach to dance. Since founding Random Dance in 1992, McGregor has known steady success fusing dance and elements of technology. He has won multiple awards, garnered numerous commissions to create works for Europe's leading companies, and had his own company become a resident company at London's famous Saddler Wells. He's even provided choreography for the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

On Nov. 4, at the Byham Theater, Random Dance makes its Pittsburgh debut with two critically acclaimed works that exemplify McGregor's aesthetic and push the boundaries of conventional dance movement.

In 2003's "Polar Sequences," McGregor explores the concept of "polar" in both geographic and magnetic terms, creating an intense world of extremes: of music, of emotion, and of dancer physicality that one critic termed "brutal."

"It is [through] the tension of those extremes in the work that meaning is communicated," says McGregor, speaking of "Polar Sequences" via telephone from his home in London.

A 25-minute excerpt from an original trio of dances of the same title, "Polar Sequences" immerses nine dancers in a world of power, grace and extremes of pace, from lightning-fast dancing to moments of stillness. Set to a score of equal intensity -- the music ranges from 17th-century English composer Henry Purcell to Marilyn Manson -- "Polar Sequences" has become a signature work of the company. This despite its minimal incorporation of technology, a cornerstone of McGregor's choreography, and more emphasis on pure movement.

"Technology is something you apply on the top of something," says McGregor. "I am not so interested in the technological elements that are on stage. We work with technologies as a way of uncovering new behaviors in the body."

Yet even when you don't see signs of technology onstage, it is always applied in the creation of his works, says McGregor. That includes the program's second offering, 2004's "Ataxia."

"Ataxia" -- developed during a six-month fellowship with neuroscientists at Cambridge University -- is named for a rare neurological condition characterized by an inability to coordinate the movements of muscles. It's 60-minute study in which Random's dancers engage in a movement language adopting the condition's symptoms.

"Patients suffering from ataxia feel that things are out of their grasp," says McGregor. "A patient may stand at the top of stairs and not be able to work out how to walk down them."

The idea of working with the scientists was to explore a disruption in the relationship between brain and body. In their experiments at Cambridge, Random's dancers literally became uncoordinated; they were falling over.

"I was interested in working from a neurological point of view in 'Ataxia' rather than an emotional one," says McGregor. "How is it the brain stimulates particular behaviors in the body and the erosion of those behaviors?"

To intensify the sense of disrupted comprehension, and even surrealism, in "Ataxia," filmmaker John Warwicker created a series of rapid-fire images and graphic designs to accompany Lucy Carter's lighting design and Michael Gordon's musical composition Trance.

"I have never been very interested in telling stories or giving very literal meanings to things," says McGregor. "But that is not to say my works are meaningless or that there are no narratives."

With these two works, McGregor goes where his interests lie: in the technology of the body, and in presenting clear images of a thought process while exploring new vocabularies in movement, whether random or not.

Random Dance 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 4. Byham Theater, 121 Sixth St., Downtown. $19.50-40.50. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org

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