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Sadler’s Wells Theatre

AUTOBIOGRAPHY (V95 & V96) at Sadler’s Wells Theatre


“Autobiography’s saviours are its dancers who are technically talented with unmitigated enthusiasm.”

Self, Life, Writing. The essence of the word Autobiography and a reflection of how Wayne McGregor sees the world, breaking it down to its core components. Autobiography was first performed in 2017 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Company Wayne McGregor. Conceived in collaboration with the dancers of the company, and inspired by the experiences, influences and ephemera of McGregor’s life, the structure of the piece is then left up to the power of ‘the algorithm’, of which more later. Now some five years or so since it was first performed, in the company’s 30th year, it’s back on stage at Sadler’s Wells, albeit in a slightly different formation.

Chapters of self contained meaning are numbered but performed out of sequence. Only chapters 1 and 23 are positioned at the same point in each performance – at the opening and closing. The significance of 23 is in its relation to the number of pairs of chromosomes in DNA, one of the most basic units of human existence. Serendipitously, 23 is also the age Wayne was when he started the company, adding a further autobiographical significance to the piece. The order in which each audience will experience the chapters is determined by an “algorithm based on McGregor’s genetic code”, dramaturg Uzma Hameed tells us in the programme. This algorithm may also select which dancers take on which roles. The ambitions are lofty and likely technically complex – but altogether opaque and probably unnecessary. A random number generator to choose the sequence would likely do the same job as an algorithm based on the sequencing of McGregor’s DNA.

And in terms of the substance of the performance – it wasn’t easy to like. In fact part way through I wondered whether the choice not to have an interval was to stop people leaving the auditorium never to return.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am always down for a bit of techno music and don’t believe dance should always be aesthetically harmonious. But some of the pieces were really challenging to endure. This was largely due to the, at times deafening, soundtrack by Jlin. Her roots in America’s rust belt are abundantly clear from the pulsating bass and breakbeats, reflecting McGregor’s choreographic style. When more melodic, there are real moments of beauty. But at the point high-pitched screams overlaid the bassline the soundtrack really wore thin.

It wasn’t always saved by the choreography. All solos, duets and trios were interesting and pleasant to watch, notwithstanding the oppressive soundtrack. But some of the pieces featuring the full company lacked cohesion. One piece in particular early on in v95 (likely to appear at a different point in other versions) lacked any unifying motif whatsoever. It appeared like an audition room with each dancer attempting to show their best moves and catch the attention of the casting director. Maybe this was the intention, given the autobiographical nature of the piece, but it felt too simplistic an interpretation for McGregor.

Autobiography’s saviours are its dancers who are technically talented with unmitigated enthusiasm. Only two of the original cast are still part of the company and they are easy to spot. The maturity is evident in Rebecca Bassett-Graham, not just from her fiercely cropped shock of white blonde hair but also from the strength and power portrayed in her movement. There’s also Jordan James Bridge, whose distinctive style stands out in a solo moment. The majority of the company are fresh talent – with just over half having joined in 2023 and all delivering stand out moments. Jasiah Marshall has a particular presence – opening the performance dominating the starkly designed and lit stage (Ben Cullen Williams and Lucy Carter) with broken lines and a chest so puffed it too looked like it might snap.

Autobiography might not be the most enjoyable watch. But as a capsule of the core elements of Wayne McGregor’s practice: a fascination with science and technology; a collaborative approach with his dancers; and a disciplined minimalism to choreography, costume and set, it’s an ambitious yet not self indulgent project.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY (V95 & V96) at Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Reviewed on 12th March 2024

by Amber Woodward

Photography by Andrej Uspenski




Previously reviewed at this venue:

NELKEN | ★★★★★ | February 2024
LOVETRAIN2020 | ★★★★ | November 2023
DANCE ME | ★★★★★ | February 2023
BREAKIN’ CONVENTION 2021 | ★★★★★ | July 2021
WILD CARD | ★★★★ | June 2021
OVERFLOW | ★★★★★ | May 2021
REUNION | ★★★★★ | May 2021



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