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Meaning in motion

By Wayne Mcgregor

Dance does not exist in a box and no rules must necessarily govern it. It is a thing of beauty, mystery and individuality, and is forever engaged in a dialogue with reality

There is a beauty in dysfunctional entities – something more exquisite than pure lines and shapes. While classical ballet has always been about effortless grace and lyricism, the human body has a tremendous range of physical potential beyond them too. Dance does not exist in a box, and there are no rules that must necessarily govern it. Dance is about a dialogue with reality and it has been my endeavour to find ever more exciting opportunities to imagine and showcase this dialectic. Looking back at the past few decades, I can see that while some dance forms, styles and sensibilities were a part of my oeuvre from the very beginning of my journey, more have been added to it with time, enriching my aesthetic vocabulary along the way.

Dance is about a dialogue with reality and it has been my endeavour to find ever more exciting opportunities to imagine and showcase this dialectic.
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When I create a piece, I am not only putting my vision out there for the world to see, but am also inviting those who see it to experiment with how they watch things. Performance is a physical entity, with the ability to make a real, direct and enduring emotional connection with its every spectator. It has the power to move you, while not necessarily representing something specific or even coherent. When I place a piece before an audience, my hope is that they receive it with an open mind, let the performance wash over them like a part of the air they breathe, and see what meaning they find in its layers.


The human body is a living archive. Each cell carries within it the blueprint of your life, enabling you to narrate stories of your past as well as possible stories from your future. Autobiography, a piece that premiered recently in London, draws upon my genetic code to present a routine that, in effect, narrates the story of my life. And each performance does so differently – no two performances of Autobiography are alike. An algorithm enables a computer to randomly select a section of code from my genome, which in turn determines the material, dancers and sequence of the piece that is then performed. This allows us 24,000 possible permutations, and we don’t have that many shows! It is an experiment, and is quite a challenge for the dancers involved, but it speaks directly to the idea of life – we do not, after all, have control over how life unfolds and the only thing to do is to deal with whatever comes our way as well as we’re able.


We have recently launched an interactive digital dance platform, Mix The Body, in collaboration with the British Council that can enable anyone, anywhere in the world, to create a sequence of contemporary dance using movements that I have choreographed. When we created the platform, we wanted to reach out to people who love dance but haven’t had a chance to engage much with it too much, and were thrilled when Prince Charles created a dance using it! The coming together of a physical medium like dance and the digital medium of technology was an exciting process to be a part of, but it was ultimately about people – individuals across the world and the ways in which they engaged with this technology. Mapping the principles of your body into a computer and seeing them form a recognisable visual piece is a manner of expression too – an expression of your body and its own aesthetic vocabulary.


In 2017, I completed a decade as the resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet. When I look back today, I see the mistakes I have made as well as the things I have worked to change. It was an experiment at first – I wanted to see if they could accommodate an artist like me and push the boundaries of what they were doing at the time. And it has been extraordinary to see how much we have opened up through the years. We have not only transformed the work that is created at the Royal Ballet, but also the audience that comes to see it. That has been, for me, our greatest success.


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