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  • Miles Hedley

AUTOBIOGRAPHY at Laban theatre

Updated: Jan 26, 2020

© Andrej Uspenski

Life is a mass of contradictions, paradoxes, emotional swings and, ultimately, a realisation that our very uniqueness as human beings means we are ultimately on our own. And few people understand this existential fragility better than renowned choreographer Wayne McGregor, as his remarkable creation Autobiography demonstrates so vividly and so thrillingly.

The piece, originally performed at Laban theatre in January 2018 and reprised there last week, probes deeper into this condition than any of his previous works because it was inspired by McGregor having his own genome sequenced to provide a profile of the 23 pairs of chromosomes that dictate basic human behaviour patterns.

Nine remarkable dancers - Jordan James Bridge, Jacob O’Connell, Joshua Barwick, Kyle White, Chien-Shun Liao, Izzac Carroll, Camille Bracher, Sharia Johnson, Eileih Muir and Rebecca Bassett-Graham – explored the limits of physical possibilities at Laban to put flesh on McGregor’s vision of his own essence, which he illustrates in 23 interpretative chapters whose order of play is selected by an algorithm. It means every performance is, like our genome, a one-off.

Having an odd number of dancers in the cast means that whenever the action requires any pairing up there is always one left on their own, a fact that not only reflects the reality of human society but also exposes the fundamental imbalance at the core of all of us. That one of the segments is entitled (Dis)equilibrium only serves to underscore the point, emphasising the isolation that haunts all community and the often minatory discord that can coexist alongside unity. In a neat display of irony, the section that comes closest to spilling over into violence is the one about Nurture.

The sense of inner turmoil and solitariness is further enhanced by Lucy Carter’s fabulous lighting which restlessly divides the stage into horizontal strata or vertical walls of whiteness while a brilliantly pulsing score by Jlin creates a soundscape of contradictory genres that includes baroque strings, classical Indian raga, contemporary electronica and industrial noise music.

McGregor’s magnificent work begins and ends with a single dancer on the stage, movingly and through movement representing how we are born alone and die alone. If that sounds bleak, I can only say that bleakness has never been so beautiful.

But in fact I think the message of Autobiography is an optimistic one – that even though our genes despotically rule so much of our existence, the creative impulse that drives McGregor enables us to rise above mere instinct and immerse ourselves in a world of fulfilment and imagination through the transcendent power of art.

Such a triumph of the soul deserves to be celebrated and it was only right that both the work and its nine interpreters were accorded rapturous ovations at the end of both its sold-out performances at Laban.

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