Atoms and dance are two words that are seldom used in conjunction with one another, however Wayne McGregor's Random Dance marries the two in Atomos. Much like his other works, McGregor utilises a new method during the creation process and, according to the programme notes, in this case ‘the dancers worked with an artificial life size, digitally rendered ‘body’ which mimics the growth and movement that makes bodies bodies.’ My intrigue, already at a high, was answered to as the performance began.

Atomos © Ravi Deepres
Atomos
© Ravi Deepres

The curtains rise slowly, making the reveal even more gripping. Ten dancers move in a square of hazy white light, melting and unfurling from themselves with a gloopy lava-lamp quality. Although collectively the dancers radiate strength, their bodies appear weightless – ordinary movement such as a rise on to the toes becomes illusory, as it seems that they almost ascend into the air. All too soon it stops. A musical change by A Winged Victory For The Sullen acts as a catalyst which draws the dancers toward each other with a series of sporadic lifts. The opening alone portrays the idea of atoms clustering and dispersing but another idea emerges once the performance goes on.

Atomos is a piece which is strong on the physical setting. 3D screens make an appearance in the work but unfortunately don’t work as well as some of the other forms, such as the costume and lighting. With the assortment of movement and the effect that the lighting has on the piece, the inclusion of 3D screens is unnecessary. The faintness of the 3D effects does nothing to dramatically impact the work, and the images on the screen are either imperceptible or don’t correlate to what occurs on stage. That is until one solitary moment when green letters scroll down the black screens reminiscent of the iconic film The Matrix, whilst the dancers suddenly stop with their hands framing their eyes. As if part of a cult, the dancers begin to chant in unison, breaking from stillness occasionally to change position. The result is effective and the ominous vibe that the image creates resonates through the intimate space of the Laban Theatre. Other than at this point, the remaining instances with the screens dissatisfy.

Atomos © Ravi Deepres
Atomos
© Ravi Deepres

Fortunately, both the costume brilliantly designed by Studio XO and the lighting by Lucy Carter work well to give the piece an underwater feel. The lighting washes the stage in reds, blues and greens – the latter hue evoking the submerged feel and making the stage a parallel to the mossy underworld of a sea bed. A soft mist seems to linger across the set making the fluctuating bodies seem more distant than they actually are. The addition of the costumes – leotards and two-pieces which hug the body like swimsuits – only add to the atmosphere with subtle diving motifs by the dancers strengthening the notion.

Atomos © Ravi Deepres
Atomos
© Ravi Deepres

A unique blend of movement charges from the company. A soft elegance emits from the dancers with bursts of ballet technique which although beautiful, does begin to get a little tedious. What breaks this up though is the welcome yet ephemeral spurts of wonderfully weird movement. Twitches of hands, bodily jerks and peculiar motifs disrupts the monotony but not for long enough. What does arise from the choreography though is the extensive use of both the legs and arms. High leg extensions and leaps that slice through the air reveal the remarkable skill that the Random Dance troupe acquire, but the handling of the arms is what makes the choreography special. Sculpting their bodies and the space surrounding them, the arms complement the accompanying movement with a tenderness that suddenly switches to agile strength. 

The concept and process behind Atomos is definitely a fascinating one, however the work done in the rehearsal studio doesn’t fully translate in performance. There are some fine moments within the piece, a slickness in the choreography and the enactment of it, but towards the end of this 65 minute work, it unfortunately becomes a little monotonous.