When the curtain rose, three giant architectural metallic arms — think giant desk lamps — flanked the stage, each holding a rectangular panel that became both lighting devices and video screens at once. A video clip of a single canine greyhound running, but not going anywhere, gave us an inkling that McGregor might be telling us something about technology and the fastest of a species.
Then McGregor’s dancers appeared, all sinewy like the greyhound, and all blessed with the hyper-extension and flexibility you see in Cirque du Soleil artists, defying what any physiotherapist would tell you is possible. But the most surprising thing of the evening was how “Entity,” a plot-free dance work, could so dramatically move and engage the audiences attention.
All 10 dancers are credited as collaborators on the choreography, and they perform the most incomprehensible movement language you have ever seen. Almost yogic, split-leg extensions with hyper-extended spines that c-curve backward from the waist, suddenly turn into twitching movements, lightning-fast turns and revolving lifts with distended limbs. Set against Joby Talbot and Coldplay collaborator Jon Hopkins’ revolutionary score of drones and string sections working harmoniously together, and against the monolithic set pieces, these futuristic and utterly other-worldly dancers suddenly appear not to be human but another species from another planet altogether.
In this strange and wonderfully cultivated realm, these “entities” want to communicate, and we watch as their idiosyncratic steps, turns, kicks, partnered lifts, contracted gropes and endless powerhouse dancing, fail them as a language. McGregor and his dancers create a work in which you don’t ever see the same single movement repeated. Astonishing, really. No repetition of any of the steps and one wonders was it partially improvised by the dancers? They move at such an urgent pace, in duets, trios and group dances; men on men, women on women, and women on men.
It is the pulse of the dance that affects you in your seat. The constant push and play between these extreme athletes reveals humanity that runs the gamut from tempers to tenderness, and everything in between. Their idiosyncratic steps, turns, kicks, partnered lifts, contracted gropes and endless powerhouse dancing ultimately fails them as a language. They just cannot communicate; they have developed into something that they themselves cannot even understand.
There were so many majestic moments of choreography but a few must be mentioned. At one point, four women unfurl on the floor like organisms captured on a time-speed camera. A line of men (their torsos stripped bare by now), facing up-stage, travel sideways, vogueing with their arms and creating a kind of “scapular” dance, their shoulder blades rotating in different directions all at once and adding to the eerily disjointed atmosphere of the piece. One male dancer executed a slow and buoyant triple pirouette going into a high sissone (jump) that lingered in the air as if he could actually hover above the earth. Then, as the piece ended, five couples corralled into a uniformity that was suddenly “run-of-the-mill,” and more like a local modern dance work. Their bodies ceased from all the hyper-extending and frenetic movement, and the dancers suddenly appeared to be a completely different group of dancers altogether. Harmony existed after all.
McGregor also makes us marvel at the art form of dance. That he and his dancers could move so fast and with such extreme physical extension, it appeared to be another medium at work. This is illusion of the greater kind. Bodies appeared, at a glance, to be digitally altered to create these super-human shapes, but they were not at all for even pixels can’t bend and flick and twist and thwak like McGregor’s dancers can. Proving again that there is nothing greater than the human body after all.