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About the Change

Wayne McGregor

on how...
          ...ballet influences him

June 2001
Interviewed on Radio 4 by Libby Purves

as reported by Brendan McCarthy

Other McGregor interviews

Wayne McGregor has been speaking about how ballet has influenced him as a choreographer. Interviewed on Radio 4's Midweek, he described the experience of working with dancers from the Royal Ballet. "I've been very lucky", he said, "It's very inspirational, that heritage. I love its potential for extremity and pushing physicality to the limit". In particular he was fascinated by pointe, unsupported pointe, and pointe as a metaphor for women exercising power.

Libby Purves, Midweek's presenter, asked him about the tension between ballet dancers' pursuit of beautiful line and McGregor's frequent use of distorted and ugly shapes. He answered that the limitation was more a psychological one; it was a question of getting dancers to see validity in that intrusion. "They often say 'hey that's horrific', but when they start to understand how the language pushes them beyond preconceptions of beauty, it's very exciting"

Asked about men on pointe, he said "I have had a go at pointe. I can show movement. In ballet there are names for every movement. Ballet dancers label your movement with those crazy names; so we have this dictionary of new movement with crazy names. But contemporary dancers don't use labels".

He described the difficulty of exploring dance as a boy. But, he said, he had grown up in the heyday of John Travolta who had been iconic in the late 1970s. Travolta made it cool to dance, rather as the Billy Elliot phenomenon may be doing now.

McGregor said that his choreography did not draw on personal experiences. Instead he saw dance shapes. His interest was in creating a physicalised language that made clear statements about emotions that could not be put into words. He himself liked to dance; he was not objective, he wanted to be involved with the physicality. This involvement was crucial to the way he created work.

Detritus, his new work for Rambert was not, in the presenter's words, about swans and roses. But he was interested in exploring the bridge between ballet and contemporary dance. Detritus was, he said about eroding classical line, space, and conventional images of dance

It wasn't his intention to shock or surprise but people tended to find his dance language provocative. Audiences "went on a journey with it". He liked that sense of close engagement.

Asked about the design for Detritus, McGregor explained that he was interested in the relationship between "automated and live physicalities". Vicky Mortimer had designed an 'incredible prosthetic' more like insect leg. It was extraordinary, he said, to see robotic movement in the context of live action. It was not like science fiction.

McGregor also described his interest in working with amateurs, in particular in getting boys and young men to dance. A crucial key was the use of animation. "It's a great way to get them into dancing" He generates images on a computer and brings a laptop into the studio. Fascinated by this, boys want to physicalise the movement, to give it life. "You teach them about animation, so you don't have to sell them dance"

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