Imagine a boutique in New York City’s ultra-chic Meatpacking District. It is so exclusive that they won’t let you in. You peek in the window hopefully and spy a gleaming chrome rack on the left side of the shop. It holds a dozen ethereal garments, all white and with at least one foot between each garment on the rack – this isn’t clothes shopping, this is shopping for wearable art. You can tell that everything is made of the finest linen. These are the clothes that dreams are made of. On the other side of the shop is an identical rack filled with similar garments made of luxurious black silk. On closer inspection you realize that there are only two designs: a tunic with flaps and hanging strings that appear alluring but non-functional and baggy shorts that hang below the knee. You know that each piece will sell for around $1,200. You heave a forlorn sigh not just because you can’t afford it but also because no matter what you do, you are not getting into this exclusive club. If you can imagine that, then you know what the costumes were for Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography presented at The Joyce. They took the tops off and tied them around their waists using those strings for some sections and then they morphed into half skirts. Wearing such costumes, your performance could only be something modern and self-referential set to no music you’ve ever listened to before. That was this show.

Company Wayne McGregor in <i>Autobiography</i> © Andrej Uspenski
Company Wayne McGregor in Autobiography
© Andrej Uspenski

There’s always this hazard in self-produced works: you risk looking inward rather than outwards. The conceit at work here is that McGregor has sequenced his genome and uses that and a computer algorithm to randomize the sequence of the dances in this work for each performance. I can’t see that it could make any possible difference in what order these dances were performed but then I suppose I’m on the outside of the shop looking in. He has created a work here that seems more directed towards introspection than entertainment. It leads to decisions like overuse of LED lighting that can produce interesting effects. Backlighting the dancers is fine if you only do it once or twice but the relentless glare of stage lights in my eyes while sitting in the audience was harsh and unpleasant when it was repeated over and over again. The music seemed like it was chosen by personal associations over entertainment value. No mistake, these were all quality dancers and they all delivered quality performances. They are a fine troupe, but here the work adds up to not very much.

Company Wayne McGregor in <i>Autobiography</i> © Andrej Uspenski
Company Wayne McGregor in Autobiography
© Andrej Uspenski

There was a fine pas de deux for two men that I enjoyed very much. It was tender and beautiful. There was a pas de deux for two women that was also memorable because it featured women in conflict. McGregor did some interesting things with groups of three, having two women lift a man and every combination that I could think of. Even though there were all these good moments, there was that scene where the dancers came out with chairs to the cacophony of chirping birds. If that doesn’t give you a sinking feeling then you’re tougher than I am. Intimate encounters followed with connections made and broken and all the usual stuff that one does with chairs in this scenario. Then there was the hardware hanging above the stage. At some point it had to come into play and sure enough, it came down to create a menacing cage effect that the dancers crawled under for a very long five minutes.

I’m glad for Wayne McGregor that he’s achieved enough success that he’s able to create the work that he wants to create without having to deal with any restrictions such as marketability. That’s a great achievement for someone in the dance world.

However, I wish he had scheduled an intermission in this hour and thirty-four minutes long piece. I needed relief from the relentless attack of the electronic music and the assault of the lighting.

**111