One of today’s busiest dance-makers Wayne McGregor has finally returned with his own company and a new production, Atomos. His style is as confident as ever – the arched backs, protruding hips, twisted torsos and hyperextensions remain a compelling presence on stage. That said, there were some unusual additions – the Adam Ant Prince Charming arms and invisible rope climbing did not sit well with McGregor’s distinctive style.
But he has not lost the knack for a beautiful duet – movements that are at once tender and sombre, full of tensions, of bodies folding and unfolding. You’re almost spoilt for choice and the moment in which one couple travel purely from the momentum of a series of rolls while holding on to each other was a very sweet touch.
It helps that he has an exceptional cast of dancers here: these are not ballet company dancers learning a new way to perform; they are natives of the McGregor language, and watching them perform still takes your breath away (even if the swimming costume-like outfits did them no favours).
Atomos has some stunning moments, one of the most memorable being a scene in which chanting dancers stand alongside screens with green data. It looked like a creepy science-fiction film and had a quasi-religious feel to it.
Ah, the screens. Several of these hung high above the stage, showing a range of things including rehearsal montage, bleak scenery and bugs. But it’s hard to see what they really added to the dance itself; together with the 3D glasses provided, they subtracted more than they added.
This is linked to the wider issue of Atomos having far too many “sections”. The choreography is insufficiently different to justify this, so the whole thing feels disjointed. You end up waiting for a climax that never comes. The lighting and music had to work hard to convey the changing moods. Long-time lighting collaborator Lucy Carter created something atmospheric that framed the dancing beautifully, impactful and dramatic but never distracting. The music, by A Winged Victory For The Sullen, is classic McGregor territory: electronic sounds mixed with soulful piano and strings.
No McGregor creation for Random comes complete without a scientific theme, and Atomos is no different. But aside from the bouncing motion in the opening and the variation in speed reminiscent of particles colliding, Atomos isn’t really about atoms. And yet the question of what a body is and how it relates with others, as posed by the programme, is thematically not a million miles away from his other work.
Visit the Thinking with the Body exhibition at the Wellcome Collection and you will get fascinating insights into how McGregor works and his inspirations from science. I suspect anyone seeing McGregor’s work for the first time would be blown away by this piece. But, overall, it feels like Atomos lacks something vital. It’s not the dancing; it’s a creeping feeling of the familiar, Atomos just doesn’t look or feel particularly dissimilar to what went before, and is slightly disappointing as a result.