For the uninitiated, Random Dance Company's calvacade of undulations, squiggles, Baroque gestures and ballet-gone-bad movement might seem as haphazard as a deluge of unprocessed data. But there is little arbitrary in the company or its latest dance to arrive here, "FAR," the sole work on the program in its West Coast premiere at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco Friday night. In fact, the dance, the company, the sound and the lighting concepts are all highly plotted and carefully calculated by renowned British director and choreographer Wayne McGregor and his dancers and designers. The work's title is an acronym of a history of the body in the late 18th century by Roy Porter. The dance purports to wrestle with ideas culled from an eight-year inquiry by the choreographer with leading cognition researchers, both in England and in California. And the interplay of sound by Ben Frost and light by Lucy Carter seems designed to bring past, present and interior worlds together, placing us inside the questions McGregor is asking: What is the relation of bodies and minds?
How is creativity spawned and shared?
What is random is the mashup of movement by this 44-year-old, idea-driven choreographer, who sends ballet and modern dance vocabularies careening. One movement might be spastic, the next courtly, followed by a beautiful Africanist bend succeeded by pristinely balletic leg and arm extensions, topped off by an eccentric circling of hand around head, all performed in a matter of 30 seconds. Even if a sudden operatic gesture seems arbitrary and possibly even histrionic, as it can, the action can so aptly capture how strange and unpredictable it is to be human.
It was McGregor's earnest effort to say something about our complex condition between the beasts and the angels, and not Enlightenment philosophy or the abundant background research that mattered Friday. It was also the fact that his movement requires extraordinary dancers to make a stream of physicalized consciousness fascinate us and seem meaningful.
McGregor has such a company--10 dancers, who worked hard for the hour and yet appeared to proceed through complex phrases, which built into intricate episodes, as though going through a parade of important but mundane encounters. We watched Louis McMiller sail onto center stage like thick liquid. Catarina Carvalho angularly pretzeled herself to the floor then continued to fold into origami patterns. Jessica Wright, Fukiko Tokase, James Pett, Anna Nowak, Daniela Neugebauer, Travis Clausen-Knight, Alvaro Dule and Michael-John Harper were each equally splendid to watch, distinct in body as well as spirit.
As the dance began, McGregor took us from three fiery torches held by three dancers to a dazzling moving wall of LED lights that blinked in rapid succession like the brain's neurons firing; from detached, animalistic encounters to predatory love set against the distended growl of a big cat eating. The complex sound score filled with electronic pulses and scrapes woven with song and voice was both intriguing and annoyingly intrusive, while the costumes by Moritz Junge were lovely but almost too understated.
As McGregor presented the human condition as weird, beautiful, and ghastly, his phrases could be compelling but at others times sputtered and fizzed, sidetracked by the scholarly assignment he had given himself. No matter how many footnotes a dance may have, none of that matters once a work is on stage. What we care about then is whether the dance itself surprises and moves us.
West Coast premiere of "Far"
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18, 2 p.m. Jan. 19
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., San Francisco
Tickets: $35-$60, 415-978-2782, www.sfperformances.org