Terpsichorus: Discussing Entity — Wayne McGregor/Random Dance

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Welcome to our first Terpsichorus discussion!

If you haven’t yet watched the film, don’t panic! You can still download and watch the film at the locations below. Feel free to come back and add your thoughts, questions, or comments after you do. The discussion will remain open indefinitely (I may close comments eventually but not for a while!).

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Look out below

I’ve posted some flash responses offered during preliminary email discussion between Steve, Robin, and myself (Nichelle). These are just to stir some conversation. You can comment on any of our comments!

Also, you’ll find some viewing prompts. These are open questions that you can choose to answer or not. If you find you’re at a loss for words, these may be good starting points.

Note: I am roughly considering Part I, anything that occurs before the big set change, and of course, Part II anything after it.

An extended list of viewing prompts, should you want to watch with it in front of you, is available here.

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The Movement

IMAGE Wayne McGregor | Random Dance's Entity IMAGE“Aesthetically, I find the vocabulary beautiful in its awkwardness… Occasionally something resonated on a human/emotional level but mostly I watched with interest from visual moment to moment.” – Nichelle

“I’m finding the movements get repetitive, they are much the same tempo throughout without any particular highs or lows. There is a bit in the early men’s section where one guy sort of crab walks backwards, partially supported by another guy, that i thought was awesome.” – Robin

“I found the patterned, more structured moments to be more pleasing to watch, a theme that was sort of echoed in the geometric shapes cast on the floor.” – Steve

“I felt like there were three main “modes” he was operating within the choreography. Don’t know if it’s true for his other work too? One, is fast, forceful, and angular. Two is very sinewy and sleek. Three is what I’m dubbing “the pterodactyl” – hyperexteded spine, inward rotation, bird-like. The mood, music, lighting, set, etc. had a lot of variety and it was interesting how he used these “modes” throughout all of those changes.” – Nichelle

List 3 adjectives describing McGregor’s movement vocabulary (or body of movements).

How would you describe the shift in mood, movement, and emotion that occurs with the change in costume, lighting, and music in Part II?

The Music, Sets, Costumes, & Lighting

“I don’t enjoy the music!… I do think the dancers execute the movement brilliantly and they are all very beautiful but really, i am just not liking it.” – Robin

“I will say that MacGregor’s work is intense and he has a genius ability to visualize (and actualize!) incredibly innovative sets and choreography.” – Steve

The shapes and diagrams on the floor are used in what way by the dancers? How do their movements and interactions relate to these projections?

What did you notice about the lighting and its relationship to changes in mood and music?

The Dancers

“The dancers all have extreme range of motion, which is why I think it’s not surprising that he works with ballet companies. At the same time, much of his vocabulary must seem alien and in great contrast to the training of ballet dancers.” – Nichelle

“Overall, I thought Entity was visually captivating, and MacGregor definitely creates unusual lines and shapes, which was also something I had a problem with. He uses flexibility to the extreme, and while all dancers must achieve a certain level of range, it was pretty clear there was no disparity among the dancers he selected to be in his company–especially the men. They were all the sinewy, hyper-mobile type and I have a tendency to think that if a company/piece is far too grounded in the “look” of a dancer, then there’s a chance the choreography isn’t speaking for itself, and I definitely saw moments of that in the performance.” – Steve

Are there performers who stand out to you? Why?

How do dancers use their faces throughout? What do they convey?

The Concepts and Themes

“I was still fascinated with how alien it looked, and it reminded me of how there are so many processes in our own bodies on a microscopic level that watching them would be just as alien, and yet still organic. I sort of imagined the dancers as parts of cells, which do move but you don’t know what motivates them to do so because they don’t have “brains” to tell them to do something. All structures within a cell have to cooperate with one another and function in a shared space and that’s what I felt like I was looking at…as if the ‘Entity’ is a larger being and we’re just seeing the tiniest fraction of it possible.” – Steve

“I like your observation about cells and how the dancers seemed part of an organism or entity. What I’m considering Part II (after the set changes and there’s that transition with all the projections and costume changes) seemed much more human to me. Almost like we’re no longer looking through the microscope.” – Nichelle

What is the significance of the Greyhound that “bookends” the work?

What images do you recognize among the variety of projections during this transition? What significance, if any, do they hold for you?

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Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle Suzanne began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. Nichelle holds a BA in dance and is an instructor with more than 17 years experience. She covers dance performance in the Houston area as a freelance writer and balances daily life as a mom to two young children. In June 2012, Nichelle presented the whats, hows, and whys of blogging on a panel at the annual conference for Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, to better equip artists and companies for engaging their audience and new readers through online communications and content.
Nichelle (admin)
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Comments

  1. Susan Cushing says:

    Production Values:

    Ok, hi folks – I’d like to jump-start a thread. What I first find most amazing about this vid is the collaboration.

    The Videography is easy to watch, does not obscure or edit the choreography, yet adds an artistic touch — particularly with the sweet ending of the audience as — what, anthropromorphised brain synapses? A chuckle at the end of a pretty intellectualized choreographic structure. The added dimension from a proscenium view is lovely and natural, diffusing the complexities of watching McG’s work from a an office or a living room.

    Lighting, again, does not interfere with or obstruct the work itself, but informs it with the playful mapping on the floor. The subtle shift from dark to light over the period of an hour develops in a sort of visual syncopation with the choreography.

    The sets – lovely, but sort of lost on me. Their construct was beautiful, and the additions and subtractions of images projected onto the set pieces were a definite complement to the work, in my humble opinion.

    What a lovely idea this Terpsichorus has been, and what a great piece to kick things off!

    From there — I’m assuming that the many other participants in this group will have a great time jumping off with the choreographic facilities of Mr. McGregor, and the dancer’s intimate knowledge of his movement vocabulary as developed for this work.

    Cheers, everyone – I hope this will turn into a conversation, which I would much prefer, and not just a monologue!

    Susan

    (BTW, I am not addressing music here, as my ancient MacBook held true to form with astonishing bad sound quality. Not sure what was meant to be there, and what wasn’t.)

    • Hello Susan! Thanks for watching and being the first to weigh in! Others have let me know they’ve viewed but need to sit down and actually write. I’m thinking we’ll have a few more ready to talk this weekend.

      I too felt that this was some of the best “for dance” cinematography that I’ve seen. Not trapped in the in and out zoom of the traditional proscenium, yet no erratic or disruptive changes of perspective. Unobtrusive and supportive of the work.

      Susan, you didn’t comment much on the dancing itself so I’m going to draw specifics from the questions above to get a little taste of what you saw. What are 3 adjectives you’d use to describe the movement overall? And, were there certain performers that stood out to you in one way or another?

      Thanks! :)

    • Tara @KT_Dances says:

      I thought Patrick Burnier’s set design was fantastic. The ability to restrict or open the space played a big part in defining each movement section. As the performance space extended, the entrance & exit of dancers became more pronounced, and their movements more expansive. It looked as though they felt their own kinesphere expand with the space.

  2. Hey guys!

    First off, once again can I say how awesome an idea this is! As a dance newbie I’m really excited as I get to share my naïve views on the piece, but more importantly get to see what ‘real dancers’ think about it too :)

    I had already watched the piece and made some notes before this post so I didn’t answer your questions directly, but here are my thoughts:

    First, I thought the piece was visually intense and breathtaking. I don’t know exactly what McGregor intended Entity to stand for, but to me the piece seemed to represent the development of a new creature, or entity if you will, and the creation of a culture.

    I noted down some words that came to mind when watching the piece and just thought I’d list them to show what kind of things were going through my head: raw, tensions, power, sharp, naïvety, abrupt, birth, androgyny, alien.

    I thought the androgyny of the dancers, costume and bareness of set was effective, but I wasn’t sure if we were meant to see these as truly sexless creatures or not. I felt after the shift the androgyny became less pronounced, possibly because of the dancers stripping down to a bare minimum of clothing which created an inevitable sexual tension.

    I also feel that we got to see this “cultures” views towards homosexuality and feminism: I thought the all-male sections were very striking and got a general sense that in this community the females had just as much, if not indeed more, power than their male counterparts.

    One question I would be interested in knowing the answer to is whether McGregor choreographed every move or if there were sections partially improvised (around thematic elements). There were certain sections that I felt were very spontaneous and thought it worked well in giving the feel of the culture ‘discovering themselves’.

    As for specific dancers, two that seemed to be singled out for me was the girl with the short White blonde hair and the man with his hair in a bun on his head. Both were captivating to watch and my eyes were constantly drawn to them. To be fair, part of that could have been their two distinctive hairstyles. Indeed hair was one of the few ways to distinguish dancers, which made the piece a lot more about the collective rather than individual.

    Oh, and as a mathematician, it was very interesting to see the mathematical projections – the golden rectangles and golden spiral in particular. Both utitilise the golden ratio – a mathematical constant known for its “beauty”. It is also the mathematical constant that defines how petals form on flowers and other “naturally beautiful” things, something else that suggested growth to me.

    They’re my initial thoughts – now I can’t wait to read what others thought!

    David

    • Ahh, Dave! I was eager to ask you if there were mathematical ‘messages’ in there and you came through! :) That’s a nice tidbit – the golden ratio… I like that it relates back to the organic.

      I love that you brought up hair styles. It’s so true that a distinctive feature like that can totally draw your eye. When I review and there’s a person that stands out in that way I have to ‘nudge’ myself now and then to be sure I’m not neglecting everyone else. And actually I have to do a similar kind of nudging to focus in on some individual strengths or traits if say, every woman in the company has short brownish hair!

      On sexuality – I agree that Part II is much more sensual and intimate. Your feelings about culture, sexuality, homosexuality, feminism bring up elements that I hadn’t put much conscious thought into before. It’s intriguing because Part II, despite it’s sensuality lost its sexual (as in relating to sex or physical love or even gender), hmmm boundaries? lines? divisions? for me. It was more “sexy” in it’s presentation, but less about sex for me than Part I. It was there I saw some of the stronger reactions (facial and physical) and divisions between genders… at the close of the all-male section when the woman walks in there’s a strong reaction, then the trio where the men manipulate her, for instance. Interesting though that I’d agree their overall “look” was more unisex/neutral in Part I. Perhaps because the bodies were less revealed?

      Your question about improvisational elements, I can’t answer definitively but I will say that often when working in a contemporary/modern/postmodern dance medium there is a degree of collaboration between choreographer and dancer(s). The degree can be great or small depending on the way a particular choreographer works. And yes, improvisation can come into play in the creation of movement. There may also be dancer input as far as taking the given material and being asked to manipulate it in some way. I don’t know for sure but I don’t recall seeing anything that looked like improvised performance. In other words, by the time it hit the stage I believe it was set (even if it had come out of improv in rehearsal). Could be wrong though!

      Great insights, Dave! You are developing a great eye, I think — your analytical nature :)

    • I think I noticed the same dancers too, but only for the hairstyles because nothing about their dancing was especially different from anyone else in my observations. I actually felt like Entity had so much going on there’s virtually no way to stand out! However, it’s clearly the kind of piece where nobody is meant to, which is so often the case for contemporary works, which essentially ignores any sort of hierarchy like we would see in classical ballet. From my experience, it is a rather democratic process and if there is improvisation, it’s pretty common to have improv jams in the studio, and a choreographer may tell their dancers to use certain phrases they come up with and not really deviate from that. Of course, some choreographers may say to do whatever they want on stage once they get there, but generally they at least have some key phrases or movement vocabulary to work with because it’s important to maintain continuity in the look of the dance throughout.

      I had a similar observation regarding the golden ratios (which I mistook as a Fibonacci sequence?) because as Nichelle noted, it references a perfection that occurs in nature and while I was picturing these cellular processes that can look so alien, those very processes are the impetus for creating things we see that are more familiar to the eye. There’s something interesting about the “motivation,” and I could sense (but not entirely grasp) something that may have had to do with origins of movement.

      • Glad you liked my mathematical response Nichelle! And don’t worry Steve, it is actually the Fibonacci Sequence as well as the Golden Ratio (if you take the ratio of consecutive Fibonacci Numbers you get closer and closer approximations to the golden ratio). It pops up in the most unexpected places and is generally considered “beautiful” so it was nice to see it appear here too!

        Regarding the sexuality – I agree that to some degree Part I was if anything more sexually charged than Part II which seemed to contradict the clothing (or lack of) with the dancers. I’m also still not entirely sure what the message was with regards to the androgyny. I definitely think there was a message there but keep on changing my mind as to what it actually was!

        I actually wanted to add a comment – I just attended an “On Pointe” session at my local Ballet Company (American Repertory Ballet) where they discussed a new work that has been choreographed for them. It was an all-male ensemble piece for 6 dancers and I immediately saw similarities with Entity, from the abrupt nature of the movement to the physicality of the choreography. There was also manipulation of bodies going on and so forth. What I found really interesting was that the piece is put to a very classical baroque piece of music. This completely shifted the feel of the piece away from Entity; although what was even more intriguing was that the dancers remarked how when the choreographer was first piecing ideas together they were dancing to a Massive Attack track (who the composer for Entity worked with).

        This got me thinking and I was wondering whether you think Entity could work to different accompaniment, and how integral you feel the music was to the piece. What I liked about the performance I saw today was that the music emphasised different elements of the piece than Entity. I felt the classical accompaniment (being a selection of Canons and Fugues) emphasised interlinking of very individual phrases wheras Entity (to me) seemed to emphasise more about the collective and stressed the rawness of the piece. I wonder how the feel of Entity would change if put to some Bach?

        David

        • That’s actually an interesting point about the music…in my amateur dabbles in modern, the philosophy was that movement didn’t have to be motivated by music and while the music is present it can also be inconsequential. Like I had teachers who would work a phrase, we’d get it into our bodies, and then add music, maybe changing it several times before deciding on what he/she liked best. I think it’s impossible to predict how the character of Entity would change if it were set to Bach, but I’m willing to bet the dancers could easily make the switch without thinking and I don’t know if the same could be said for NYCB dancers taking Concerto Barocco choreography and performing it to the track for Entity!

          • I agree that the dancers would easily make the switch, though I also think a change would affect the work and their dancing. It’s very true that the process can be quite different for ballet and modern-based work. It’s not that the music is considered inconsequential but that the movement or sometimes even the idea/intention is the primary medium and influence. Well (now that I’m thinking of it) maybe that’s true for ballet too but the aesthetic or tradition is that the music support the dance/story in a way that is analogous rather than supporting the dance through any opposing or divergent means. And, I actually think many ballet dancers could easily create the movement to another piece of music, whether or not it would or could serve the dance at all is probably a matter of opinion, but it might be a fun experiment nonetheless!

  3. Though this doesn’t directly relate to ‘Entity,’ something I would like to know is if McGregor has or intends to develop a technique, or if he teaches through choreographing the dance. This is not to say that I think every choreographer should have a school in their name, but I wonder about his process of developing dancers or in some cases, how he elicits what he wants from others.

    • When I’ve worked with choreographers who have a very distinctive movement style or vocabulary, I have felt that it’s a combination of my skills as an observer, the language or imagery used by the choreographer, and time that allow me to best “absorb” or adapt that particular style most accurately for my body. With that said, the degree of my accuracy has varied depending on who I’m working with. There are certain choreographers that for whatever reason (a similar body type, movement preferences, or something I can’t even put my finger on) whose work I’ve been better able to embody. I think many contemporary or modern dancers work with a variety of choreographers over the course of their career but tend to stay with the ones where they’re in equal agreement with the choreographer and others that the work and the movement are a good fit. That is, unless circumstances or the need for a new challenge pushes them onward.

  4. Just adding some “further-reading” except none of it involves reading:

    Audio interview:
    http://randomdance.org/productions/current_productions/entity/audio_programme

    Video interview:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/video/2008/apr/11/entity

    Radiohead’s recent video for Lotus Flower, choreographed by Wayne McGregor:
    http://www.radiohead.com/deadairspace/
    (feel free to make comparisons/observations!)

  5. Hey guys! I’m curious if any of you had thoughts about the greyhound, its meaning, and why it might have been chosen to bookend the work? There’s no right or wrong (it’d all be guessing really) but did it suggest anything for you?

  6. Tara @KT_Dances says:

    Interesting discussion for sure. For me sexuality didn’t really come into it, I especially enjoyed seeing people moving with precision & commitment. The strength of the dancers allowed for a distinctive sense of personality without overpowering the movement vocabulary & style. Looking at individual performance; for me the dancer with the short blonde hair stood out. She really engaged with the material & invested energy in every movement.
    Choreographically I particularly enjoyed the interchangeable parings & trios.
    The elements of contact were quite jarring, and did not follow a ‘soft point of contact’ style, so when it did resolve into more sweeping movements I could savour the contrast.

    • Sorry I’m late to answer, Tara! Thanks for adding your thoughts. You know, I was thinking… as I watched part one I never thought of sexuality but merely noticed gender divisions in the composition. It wasn’t until the second part that I felt the movement become more sensual and intimate (if not sexual in nature) and that made me look at the first part in a slightly different way. I like your mention of the “soft point of contact.” I noticed… maybe even felt… that contrast as well.

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