Wayne McGregor & the Breakfast Oyster at the Palais Garnier
Genus (Wayne McGregor)
Wined, dined and celebrated half-way round Good Ship Lollipop, Wayne McGregor has now clonked his hobnailed boots down at the Palais Garnier.
Thuggish is a polite word for this sort of non-choreography.
Let us get straight to what had this particular soul shaking with rage in the theatre this past Thursday, All Soul's Day 2007.
GENUS is a work of brutal, unabashed misogyny. McGregor need not write a memorandum on the subject. In words, he may be all luvvie-duvvie to the Weaker Sex. And he may praise Ould-Braham to the Heavens in Le Figaro - which he does. From then on, it's all hyper-extensions and crotch-shots, twisting and turning that "fearful orifice", until every last pimply adolescent in the theatre shall have got the message - such as it is.
Now, Misogyny means hatred of woman. If hatred, as they say, be fear, and fear, ignorance - and if, to the Darwinan, all there be to woman is That - then let us rend aside the veil, as it were, of ignorance.
Which is where the Breakfast Oyster slides in.
The Breakfast Oyster. At breakfast-time, week in, week out, have a baker's dozen of fresh oysters on the half-shell delivered to our McGregor. Thirteen of 'em, all sittin' there, smilin'.
Yes! The resemblance with the fearful orifice is striking, and when sprinkled with a little fresh lemon juice, quite acceptable, even in early morning - all the more so, if knocked back with an ice-cold vodka. Get over it, Wayne.
The Oyster - more evolved than Darwin ?
The brass-tacks issue, however, is what McGregor does to bone, brawn and tissue - and that includes brain tissue.
Owing to our epoch's fondness for the extreme, ballet dancers today are, in the main, selected on the basis of a near-pathological laxity, a state of affairs made still worse by the encouragement of stretching.
The body is thus - especially in the woman - intrinsically unstable. The last thing anyone in his right mind would want to do, is to stretch it out still further, pull on the ligaments and devour the tendons, by forcing them to do things that our musculature is designed to PREVENT us from doing.
Here is where McGregor's Great Fraud comes in. In his writings, he rattles on about Darwin, and the evolution of the body. Does he know what he is talking about? I beg to suggest that he does not.
Our own species, Homo sapiens, has been on this earth for something like two to three hundred thousand, read thousand, years. In that time, the human body has most emphatically not evolved, save to become taller owing to advances in housing, heating and hygiene, and for that reason, slightly, and I do mean slightly, more lax.
Homo sapiens is not going to turn into a shapeless blob of spittle-soaked chewing gum, just because William Forsythe Wills it To.
Speaking of Lickspittlers...
There are individuals out and about, who will praise this sort of work in the newspapers, radio and television. Clearly, they have never danced themselves. Had they, they would be grimacing in pain.
Back to McGregor's "GENUS".
One example: the woman goes down into deep fondu in second - already not the most amusing movement known to Good Ship Lollipop - and then the man comes up to her, hauls her up onto point, grabbing the gesture leg and pressing it first up to the head and then well beyond it. For good measure, he will then, perhaps, rotate her body using the leg as a stick-shift, in order to impress torsion on the spine. There are many such movements in "Genus".
They make one feel sick to the stomach.
McGregor has given these passages to Ould-Braham, because she is hyper-lax, and very delicate (Fun Fun Fun, eh? Ever seen nasty children who break a new toy at the Christmas?)
I fear the consequences, not only because to see a fellow human being subjected to such indignity, offends the conscience, but still more, because the girl is a rare talent, potentially a great classical ballerina, and, like many hundreds of people here, I do not wish to see her destroyed.
But what McGregor demands is pounding muscular force and energy, in an orgy of waste. The floor is used, not to push into or off from, as in classical dance, but solely as a brace, a dead-weight, against which the articulations can be cracked open, in a manner otherwise impossible. From a friend, the floor becomes our enemy.
This destabilises the entire struggle to align oneself properly, through postural muscles, and the "least-action" principle.
Most of the movements McGregor demands from the woman can be effected only by swinging right over the shoe, and then, with the point ground or hooked into the floor, applying force through some déjà-vu permutation on the battement lancé or grand rond de jambe jeté, to which he will of course add torsion.
Just what the doctor ordered for the bone-thin Dorothée Gilbert, who, at age 24, has only just returned after nearly one year out, owing to bilateral stress fractures.
As for the men, McGregor does not have it in for them quite as much, and they can probably stagger through it without too much broken crockery, provided one have the muscle-volume to use as a buffer-zone. Although again, can one be sure? Matthew Ganio is very lax, and has a chronic knee problem ...
And WHERE is Management when this sort of thing is going on?
Asleep at the wheel?
McGregor professes adherence to Charles Darwin. Ergo, he sees us as four-legged beasts, standing on two. So let us enjoy the protection afforded the four-legged! Get in a squad from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
J.G. Bart, Murez, Liam Scarlett - there are men out there who can choreograph in the classical language. Get their work onto the stage, and let them take over from McGregor et al. It seems the European Commission sponsors - lavishly - McGregor's outfit, that is known as D.A.N.C.E. Based on what we have just seen, I rather suspect its coeur de métier must be knocking back cocktails in Brussels.
Could someone please ring Pete Mandelson? Where were the Competition laws when we needed them?
People will be angry when they read this - not because I am lying, but because they know that it is the truth.
Where I return to the attack
Under "Genus", on the Paris Opera's Website, one finds a self-promotional piece penned, if not by McGregor himself, then by a ghost writer of his own persuasion. It refers to the Visible Human Project located within the US-based, National Library of Medecine. On the NLM Website, we read (bear with me, it is most unappetising),
"The Visible Human Project® is an outgrowth of the NLM's 1986 Long-Range Plan. It is the creation of complete, anatomically detailed, three-dimensional representations of the normal male and female human bodies. Acquisition of transverse CT, MR and cryosection images of representative male and female cadavers has been completed. The male was sectioned at one millimeter intervals, the female at one-third of a millimeter intervals.
What retains McGregor's interest here is, in his words, "fragmentation, decentration of vision, and the passage from the macroscopic to the microscopic".
Many have read McGregor's text, and have said to this writer "AW SHUCKS Kaff, he don't mean it."
You might ask, "Why SHOULDN'T McGregor creep into the Visible Human Project's morgue? Leonardo crept round in graveyards to get cadavers to dissect, didn't he?"
As it happens, Leonardo was a scientist, painting being but one of his major commitments. He needed to know how bone, ligament, tendon and musculature work, since without knowing the structure and hypothesising on its bio-mechanics, one cannot depict - for example - the action of the mind through the bending of eye-light. Besides the light-rays as such, how does one paint the eye-muscles, the fluttering of the eye-lashes, the light reflecting from the sky into the eye-socket and off the temples? Without the bio-mechanics, the metaphor could not emerge. The bio-mechanics become the bridge over which thought walks.
Plainly, Leonardo's intent is to move from the "microscopic" to the "macroscopic" and not the reverse - anchoring in concrete, visible, tangible (non-abstract forms), the outcome of thoughts and deeds that, being abstract, may not be visible to the naked eye.
Wading through McGregor's Labanian purple prose, I venture to suggest that he is no scientist at all, but a Sorcerer's Apprentice - stumbling onto terrain where he must make up for a lack of true knowledge, by mouthing magic formulae.
The French refer to classical dancing as danse savante, or scientific dancing. In a nutshell, using one's brain.
Using one's brain means that if something be good, we need more of it. We avoid to wreck it. We want it to last a long time.
But the movements and gestures that McGregor has given our lads and lassies to "dance", are dangerous. They cause pain, and they use up the body.
This is not science. It is tantamount to madness.
One of the things the D.A.N.C.E. crowd seems to be into, big-time, is Torsion.
"That's a technique we've been working on for 15 years or so: looking at two-dimensional events and translating them into three dimensions, and then concentrating the torsion of the body into the throat and using this tension to produce sounds that we then filter through software instruments." William Forsythe, to "Bomb" Magazine, Summer 2006.
The physical side of classical dancing is, to put it mildly, complex, but stated summarily, it involves the inter-relation of rotational or elliptical movement of the limbs in their sockets, and the releasing/activating of the natural spirals in opposition, to permit action on another plane. Rotation, and the release of opposition. NOT torsion, one example of which would be taking a wet towel and wringing it out.
So now let us try a little experiment.
Sit facing a table, with your back straight, and both feet squarely on the ground. Raise your elbows to bosom height, and then activate both flanks, using the "supported" arm throughout. Now de-activate the left flank, in order to rotate the torso slightly to the right. Release of opposition, creating a natural spiral - easy.
Then reactivate both flanks. Now try to turn to the right with both flanks activated. No release of opposition - much harder.
Next, reactivate both flanks, rotate to the right, and, keeping both flanks activated, press towards the left as well. Stiff, uncomfortable, near impossible in fact. In this contradictory state, we find incipient torsion.
Incipient torsion can be realised as torsion in the dancing individual, only when some outside agency - here, a partner - applies great force. Since dancing movement calls for speed and impetu, that force will wreak the damage of a cannonball.
This is a most unsavoury image, because we are talking about manipulating a female dancer, but we may as well face facts: it is like taking the leg on a roast chicken, and twisting and turning it both ways, to break the ligaments and get the leg off.
Neurosis is a force, that, being wrestled with, forges the personality.
Crippling neurosis is another kettle of fish. Boils down to madness.
On this occasion, the working definition we adopt for madness is the inability to put aside the teeming "microscopic", to focus on a general ("macroscopic") idea of what has to be done in the real world.
What typifies the madman?
The madman cannot conceptualise - he cannot make the leap from the very small to the universal notion, from the "microscopic" to the "macroscopic".
Wielding, all the while, McGregor's own terminology, I would say that the madman's mind is a stranger to him ("alienated"), he is "fragmented" (cut off) from the real, irreversible effects of his own deeds (which is why he may kill or injure others without remorse), and he is "dislocated", because neither his bodily movements, nor his mind, can be "located" wherever it is they are meant to be.
We have all seen madmen gazing, here at their own hand, here at a mole on the finger, here twitching the shoulders, here pumping a leg up and down, or staring into the looking-glass at the own eye, and withal, for hours at a time. There you have it. The madman's "vision" is "decentrated" as McGregor puts it, because, look as he may, he sees not.
Back to the Garnier stage. McGregor, as we have just seen, has chosen to use a precise terminology, that does indeed correspond, and precisely, to his movements and gestures. Besides being dangerous ("fragmented" - cut-off from conscious awareness of their true and frightening impact on the human body) - they are the movements and gestures of madmen. Functional madmen perhaps - able to walk into a café and order drinks, or pull a shapeless T-shirt on in the morning - but madmen nonetheless.
On the aforesaid Opera Site, McGregor further writes: "If [I should] assert any ethic at all, it would be that of neutrality".
Neuter, neutrality, neutered - neutral before what? Neutral in the face of war? In the face of killing? In the face of starvation? Moral indifferentism, a modern variant of Gnosticism: "Care not for what may happen in the world below, since all Existence is intrinsically Evil?" etc. Accordingly, in many gnostic sects, it matters not what suffering be inflicted to the body.
At the end of the day, Wayne McGregor, faced with the world of ideas, is clueless. Else how could he write, "We invent reasons to explain our existence, and were someone to come say that there is no meaning, that nothing is pre-destined, I can understand that it's controversial".
It so happens that the doctrine of pre-destination was demolished by Saint Augustine nigh on 1,700 years ago (De libera Arbitrio). What McGregor would be saying, assuming he understood what he is talking about, which he does not, is that the corollary to Man's free will (libera arbitrio) is that his existence on this earth be meaningless! Or, conversely, that only pre-destined events, have meaning!
I have never heard such rubbish, or rather, I have heard it, but then, it was for laughs.