When Technology Met Wayne McGregor

Relentlessly innovative choreographer and movement director, Wayne McGregor has been incorporating state-of-the-art technologies into his astonishing works for decades

By Studio Wayne McGregor

Cybergeneration (1996-11-20) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

Computer literate from an early age, McGregor instinctually understood that technology was to play a key role in his creative practice. And so he never viewed it as alien, threat, toy nor gimmick, but simply as evolving series’ of tools that might aid us in expanding our shared understanding of human experience.       

Stairwell (2010) by OpenEndedGroup, Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

Regarding the body as a technologically literate entity and vital organic interface, he has consistently and successfully experimented with how the physical, digital and virtual worlds may coalesce by harnessing computer graphics, thermal cameras, video projections, live broadband links, 3-D software, animation and gaming programmes, drones, algorithms and more – seeking to uncover how they in turn affect performing bodies and viewing audiences.      

Waltham Forest Disability Resource Center workshopStudio Wayne McGregor

Today, Studio Wayne McGregor is the east London locus of his multiple in-house teams, eponymous dance company’s and collaborative network’s joint projects – from making dance alongside movement-generating algorithms designed in partnership with Google Arts & Culture’s Lab, to producing education and outreach initiatives that guide people of all ages and abilities towards a better understanding of their physicality.

FAR (2010-11-17) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

Here we present key technology-centric works from Company Wayne McGregor’s oeuvre.      

Cyborg (1995-10-13) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

As well as commissioning and co-designing technologically-augmented scenery and sets, McGregor continually interrogates humanity’s relationship with technology through movement by parlaying the excitement, confusion, attachment and wonder that we feel when we engage with or contemplate technology into dance. In 1996, he debuted Cyborg, a solo inspired by the simulated actions of an AI robot, which he also performed.    

view of temple (2008-09-23) by John W BanaganGetty Images

That same year, McGregor’s commitment to technological advancement saw him undertake research trips to Canada and Tokyo to investigate innovations in connecting live spaces and the relationships between architecture and light, respectively. Back home, following further research, he began working on landmark dance triptych – The Trilogy, which was additionally informed by the elemental states of earth, water, wind and fire.   

The Millennarium (1997-09-26) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

“A glimpse into the 21st Century”, The Millennarium (1997) was the first of these gripping full-length works to debut. From the aquarium-evoking, real and ‘cyber-scape’ set design, which boasted 3-D CGI graphics, to movements borne of improvised material that included ‘virtual figures’, ‘televisual presence’ and ‘cloning’ – each facet of the production was infused with technology.      

Sulphur 16 (1998-01-29) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

Having landed a National Lottery grant, Company Wayne McGregor were in possession of equipment such as laptops, animation software, digital and thermal cameras and projectors as they shaped follow-up, Sulphur 16 (1998). In the studio, McGregor opted to work with Poser, a 3D computer graphics program, to craft movements on a virtual dancer that were transposed back onto the company dancers.      

Aeon by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

At the turn of the millennium, the technologically-progressive trilogy culminated in the staggering, critically-acclaimed, Aeon. A groundbreaking multimedia performance featuring present and digitised 3-D virtual bodies performing together with animations and graphics in physical, screen-based and virtual spaces, excerpts of which were also webcast in combined programme The Trilogy Installation (Studio Wayne McGregor, 2000). McGregor’s reputation as a world-leader in technology-enhanced artistry was now cemented.      

Barbican Lab by Studio Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

As well as shaping exhilarating performances for professional dancers, McGregor and his Company have long been community-minded. Since the 1990’s, led by Jasmine Wilson, Director of the Studio’s Learning & Engagement wing, Studio Wayne McGregor has sought inventive ways to captivate participants from professional dance students to movement novices as they strive to build upon their movements skills and creativity. 

Zero Hertz (1999-06-26) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

In 1997, their efforts led to the premiere of Neurotransmission, which featured over 100 youthful amateur and adult professional dancers from Sweden, the UK and Ireland perform against a CGI and digital video backdrop. Two years later, Company Wayne McGregor and 60 young ‘cyber-dancers’ from Cork, Ireland, performed amid an electrifying ‘virtual’ environment, in a performance entitled Zero Hertz.   

Game of Halves (2002-08-01) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

That same year, McGregor utilised a satellite link and computer screens to connect professional dancers with digital representations of fellow cast members in Germany and Canada, as they simultaneously performed his 53 Bytes in a Movement live across three venues. With the advent of ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) telephone lines in 2002, he was able to stage Game of Halves, a remote location Learning & Engagement production, featuring Company members and children dancing together in North and South Wales.   

Nemesis (2002-01-25) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

Company Wayne McGregor celebrated a decade of existence with the insect and virtual reality-themed Nemesis (2002). Created by a talented team of collaborators, including McGregor’s long-standing creative partners: lighting designer, Lucy Carter and video artist, Ravi Deprees, as well as costume design by Stonewood & Bryce with animatronics by Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop...  

Nemesis (2002-01-25) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

...the striking piece featured holograms dancing with humans wearing aluminium and carbon fibre prosthetic limbs to an original composition by Scanner that sampled mobile phone conversations.

Dyad 1909 ProjectStudio Wayne McGregor

Alongside intrepid researchers from the fields of cognitive and social science, psychology, anthropology and the arts, McGregor has driven a swathe of in-depth inquiries into the intelligence of the body, also known as physical thinking, and creativity for two decades. One vital and persistent line of inquiry has been the development of an artificially intelligent choreographic entity. Its first iteration was in the guise of a ‘Choreographic Language Agent’.      

Entity (2008-04-10) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

The pursuit of this technological goal – which was jointly conducted by a team including Professor Philip Barnard of Cambridge University, Professor David Kirsh of the University of California, and notable independent arts and science researcher, Scott deLaHunta – fed into the award-winning, un-categorisable feat of contemporary dance that was the Sadlers Wells premiering Entity (2008).      

Future Self (2012-05-02) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

As well as stage-based works, McGregor and creators from the worlds of arts, architecture, design and technology have conspired to make impactful installations such as 3-D ‘living sculpture’, Future Self. This minimal yet visceral light-based study of human movement and the relationship we have with our image was devised with London art collective, Random International, and featured choreography by McGregor set to music by Max Richter.

Rain Room - Random International with Wayne McGregor Dance (2012) by Random InternationalBarbican Centre

The collaboration was continued when Company Wayne McGregor dancers performed in Random International’s popular Barbican installation, Rain Room.    

Atomos (film) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

For his thrilling 2013 piece Atomos, McGregor enlisted design duo Studio XO to make wearable technology that mapped the Company’s dancers’ biometrics and design digital skins inspired by each artist’s emotional algorithms. While the stage design encompassed a 3-D film by Deprees.      

As a movement director for films such as The Legend of Tarzan and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, McGregor became well acquainted with motion-capture technology. In directors Dom+Nic’s award-winning video for The Chemical Brothers’ hit single Wide Open (2016) motion-capture, 3-D tracking and additional visual effects by The Mill combined beautifully as dancer Sonoyo Mizuno performed McGregor’s choreography.

Video showing behind the scenes footage of real-time motion capture technology, used on the set of Wide Open

Plus Minus Human by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

Devised especially for capacious London venue, The Roundhouse, McGregor’s spectacular immersive installation +/-Human, featured an autonomous flock of algorithmically-driven drones made by Random International. Live performances in the space saw the drones ‘dance’ with members of his Company and The Royal Ballet, of which McGregor has been Choreographer-in-Residence since 2006.     

Autobiography Edits by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

How does one faithfully depict the subjective complexities of one’s life story? For McGregor’s ingenious and enlivening Autobiography (Sadlers Wells, 2017), the polymath had his genome sequenced then transmuted into an algorithm, created in partnership with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.       

Autobiography by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

The code then decided anew which of his 23 volumes of personally-inspired choreography would be performed on stage every evening – as well as their order, dynamics and casting, ensuring that each performance will eternally remain unique.    

QuestLab Network by Studio Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

Studio Wayne McGregor launched its QuestLab Network in 2018. The hugely worthwhile development initiative aims to foster fruitful connections between dance artists, developers, technologists and commercial organisations, with the intention of facilitating new performance and engagement projects. The Studio also supports up-and-coming artists, including many who work with technology by donating its creation-geared spaces to those who wish to ideate and make in exchange for time spent on education or community outreach.        

Living Archive by Google Arts and Culture Lab, Studio Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

Once the Company’s 25 year-spanning video archive had been digitally ingested and repurposed as a gargantuan data training set, Damien Henry, the organisation’s Head of Innovation, worked with coders and engineers to produce algorithms capable of predicting continuations of any given motion.   

Living Archive by Google Arts and Culture Lab, Studio Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

Building upon his extensive research into artificially intelligent movement-generating software, McGregor recently partnered with Google’s Arts & Culture Lab on a project entitled, Living Archive. 

Living Archive by Google Arts and Culture Lab, Studio Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

Not only is the resultant, revolutionary tool able to suggest 30 original movement phrases per action, it’s capable of doing so in the style of any one of McGregor’s current cast of extraordinary dancers – and in real-time via live video input. This trailblazing feat of wo/mxn-machine collaboration was designed specifically to supply unexpected creative possibilities, rather than replace a single human.   

Living Archive: An AI Performance Experiment (2019-07-12) by Wayne McGregorStudio Wayne McGregor

McGregor and his Company then utilised the technology to riveting affect when making dance work Living Archive: An AI Performance Experiment (Los Angeles Music Centre, 2019) to accompany classical concerto, ‘In Seven Days’ by illustrious composer, Thomas Adès.      

Credits: Story

'Technology' text written by Suze Olbrich.

Images of Living Archive experiment, courtesy of Google Arts & Culture.  

Images of Company Wayne McGregor performing Living Archive: An AI Performance Experiment, captured at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion by Cheryl Mann. Used by permission of the LA Phil.    

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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