Sadler’s Wells Theatre

12 March 2024

Maggie Foyer

Writing your autobiography is a venture for the brave and also for the big ego, with the first generally making a better read. Wayne McGregor’s choice of medium for Autobiography is, unsurprisingly, movement as he unpacks the word to tell his ‘self, life, writing’. McGregor enjoys playing the chance game, as Merce Cunningham was wont to do, but shifts it forward half a century and into the minefield of AI algorithms where the variety is extraordinary and the results fascinating.

Movement can be ambiguous but can also reveal the blinding truth. However, in this instance the inspiration is DNA with the computer randomly selecting items from McGregor’s genetic code. DNA doesn’t lie and random selection avoids bias thus removing the fallibility and deviousness that makes us interesting as human beings. However, what we are left with is dance of most extraordinary range executed by ten truly amazing performers.

Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography v.95
Photo: Ravi Deepres

A lone male dancer, Jasiah Marshall, stands on the stripped bare stage, a haze blurs the boundaries and makes it a liminal timeless space. He starts to dance with movements that are liquid, rippling through the body, fiercely punctuated by powerful extensions proving the miracle that is the human body. It is driven by Jlin’s intense sound score that penetrates the listeners’ bodies.

Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography v.95
Photo: Ravi Deepres

He is joined by the other dancers, each doing their own thing in a style that has a McGregor family resemblance. Trendy dance gear in monochrome shades gives the right look, outlining shapes that are absolutely of the moment. The dancers are confidently self-sufficient, relating in a friendly fashion to others that move into their sphere while retaining their own identity. This independence was balanced by several duets where an emotional frisson warmed and coloured the relationships.

The style is contemporary but the dancers have the strength and finish of ballet dancers and McGregor’s choreography includes anomalies like an occasional brisé. The power, height and lightness of the leaps was exciting and the softness of the landings most impressive. There were moments, mainly in the first half when the beauty, the energy and the newness reminded me of the phenomenal premiere of Chroma at Covent Garden.

Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography v95
Photo: Ravi Deepres

The look of the work was amazing, (Set design and projection by Ben Cullen Williams). Lucy Carter’s lighting has its own personality. The metal latticework that supports the lights changes shape and colour according to the mood. It starts high above the dancers but later in the work lowers to leave barely space to slither across the floor. Lights directed at the audience are used effectively and subtly in the opening scenes but becomes annoyingly overused in the last episodes accompanied by music ramped up to an intensity that needs a health warning.

Autobiography would have made an impressive one act, forty-minute work but stretching it to eighty minutes diminished the impact.  There seemed little new and little reason for the work to continue so long. While the piece was expertly designed and performed it sadly seemed to run out of breath.