Wayne McGregor and Random Dance use science to bring new life into modern dance

Atomos - a new science-based dance piece from leading choreographer Wayne McGregor, performed by his

Atomos - a new science-based dance piece from leading choreographer Wayne McGregor, performed by his company Random Dance at Snape Maltings. - Credit: Archant

Long-term DanceEast associate artist Wayne McGregor is bringing Atomos, his latest full-scale work, to Suffolk this week.

Atomos - a new science-based dance piece from leading choreographer Wayne McGregor, performed by his

Atomos - a new science-based dance piece from leading choreographer Wayne McGregor, performed by his company Random Dance at Snape Maltings. - Credit: Archant

McGregor, who has had close ties with DanceEast since he was a young performer, will be staging his ground-breaking dance piece at the Snape Maltings as part of DanceEast’s revived Snape Dances.

Atomos promises to break new ground both in terms of choreography and presentation. Brendan Keaney, artistic director of DanceEast, said: “Atomos is a new full-length work and continues McGregor’s ongoing exploration of scientific ideas and principles.

“Atomising bodies, movement and film, it features a cast of ten dancers, set against a backdrop devised by a collective of hand-picked artists including long-time collaborators lighting designer Lucy Carter and filmmaker Ravi Deepres. Neo-classical ambient composers A Winged Victory For The Sullen will be providing a newly composed score which will be performed live, and costumes are designed by cutting edge design house Studio XO, whose work includes ground-breaking wearable technologies and digital skins.”

These lightweight bodysuits have been designed to make physical representations of biometric data – temperature, retinal movement, states of arousal and stress.

Wayne McGregor rehearsing dancers at a public workshop

Wayne McGregor rehearsing dancers at a public workshop - Credit: Archant


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He said that the performance would combine the high quality content that McGregor is renowned for but the staging of the show would be at the cutting edge of 21st Century performance.

This latest work carries on McGregor’s fascination with the mechanics of the human body and the way that the brain controls our muscles and limbs.

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Over the years McGregor has collaborated with scientists and medical researchers to try to uncover the mysteries of the body and how we can extend our understanding of physical and mental self.

He and his company Random Dance continue to work with the Wellcome Trust researching the nature of creativity. McGregor and his dancers have become lab rats for neuroscientists, cardiologists and experimental psychologists.

Atomos - a new science-based dance piece from leading choreographer Wayne McGregor, performed by his

Atomos - a new science-based dance piece from leading choreographer Wayne McGregor, performed by his company Random Dance at Snape Maltings. - Credit: Archant

The study, which has been running for the best part of a decade, reveals how the group of dancers communicates, interacts, memorises and makes decisions.

In a recent interview McGregor admitted that sometimes he gets frustrated with the insulated nature of the dance world. He said: “I try to plug dance into the real world, because I think that’s the way you get good projects on. Especially with new media, new technology, science projects. There’s so much richness there if you just tap into it – rather than just bemoaning the fact that the Arts Council is cutting funding.”

The new work, Atomos, was developed from a suitably sciencey background. The idea behind it grew from discussions about taking the smallest units (or atoms) of data and building them into something big.

“I like this idea that you could grow something in stages,” said McGregor. “What is the smallest atom of choreographic content you can build that then bolts on to another atom? It’s an interesting way to grow choreography. In the same way that you can grow buildings. MIT has got this silkworm farm where they’re building silkworm structures that become big architectural buildings.”

Atomos - a new science-based dance piece from leading choreographer Wayne McGregor, performed by his

Atomos - a new science-based dance piece from leading choreographer Wayne McGregor, performed by his company Random Dance at Snape Maltings. - Credit: Archant

Although McGregor says dance needs an audience to be truly live, the majority of McGregor’s creative energy is spent in the rehearsal studio where his works take shape.

McGregor doesn’t start out with a finished piece in mind or even have a series of steps to start things off. Everything grows in the studio out of experimentation and collaboration.

“The energy to work doesn’t wane. I never go into the studio and think, ‘God, I’ve got a day of making something up’. I just find bodies endlessly fascinating. I want to try things. Of course some won’t work out.

“I think creativity is a collective experience, it’s a “we” not an “I”. Dance is an inherently collaborative art form. As a choreographer, you absolutely cannot do what you want without the reciprocity of amazing dancers.

“I think we do ourselves a massive disservice in dance in not having looked at it as an intellectual art form. We have this idea, partly because of the past, of choreographers just coming and dancers just doing as if they’re not thinking. We know that dance is as much a cognitive act as it is a physical act. That’s why I’ve been very interested in physical thinking.”

Wayne McGregor shows no sign of slowing down. In addition to his work with Random Dance, he has just signed up for another five years as choreographer in residence at the Royal Ballet, and is creating or mounting work at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and with the San Francisco Ballet.

Atomos, performed by Random Dance, will be performed at Snape Maltings on February 20-21.

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