Kirsty Young's castaway is the choreographer Wayne McGregor. Despite his background in contemporary dance, he has been resident choreographer at the Royal Ballet - the first from outside the company - for the past ten years. He has brought to Covent Garden a fascination with technology, a passion for collaborative efforts with visual artists and musicians, and he is renowned for drawing inspiration particularly from the field of science. Born in Stockport in 1970 to Scottish parents, he was inspired by the John Travolta films he watched and took ballroom, disco and Latin American dance classes. After studying choreography at the University of Leeds and spending a year at the José Limón dance school in New York, he returned to the UK and at the age of 22, founded his own company. He made his first professional piece in 1993, and choreographed Dame Judi Dench in Sondheim's A Little Night Music at the National Theatre in 1995. He received his first commission from the Royal Ballet in 2000 and it was his 2006 work Chroma which clinched him the job as resident choreographer. He works on a wide range of projects away from the stage, including films, music videos, and opening and awards ceremonies, and continues to choreograph for his own company and others around the world including Paris Opera Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, La Scala Milan, New York City Ballet and the Australian Ballet. He has won numerous prizes for his work, including two Olivier Awards, and was appointed a CBE for Services to Dance in 2011. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is the bbc hulu on Kirsty young. Thank you for downloading this podcast of desert desert island discs from BBC radio for for rights reasons, the music choices are shorter than in the radio broadcasts for more information about the programme. Please visit bbc dotcom, dont uk slash radio for. My castaway this week is the choreographer wayne mcgregor resident choreographer, the royal ballet. He follows in the footsteps. Frederick Ashton and kenneth macmillan sort of his dances occupy the same rehearsal rooms and that iconic stage, but instead of reacting a rich repertoire of classics, his creations, our contempt
challenging dances and audiences alike to see their bodies and the world a new, Many lads born in stockport in the seventies he was mesmerized by the moves of John Travolta, but his fascination didn't fade the doors of the local disco. He went on to study, choreography festival, aids and then new york. He formed his first company aged just twenty two, he says my dances comment on my life. It's because they involve a series of questions. I want to explore, I suppose, when I've got no more questions, I will stop. So what are the big questions that preoccupy? You then wait? What what is it that you're trying to fathom through the work that you do. I think the questions are endless. I mean, I think, I'm fascinated by the technology of the body. If you think about the body is the most technologically literate thing that we have in a world where technology is developing a rate where we can experience our lives in really challenging and interesting ways. to meet. The body is central to all those conversations, and you know about
cause. We we carry on all our kind of personal archive in our body. So when I look at you, I already have a sense of something of your physical signature, of how you're feeling today of what that might expressed to me and so the body to so readily with meaning what what how do I read? Well, I think today you are in a state of preparedness. You ready for this interview that you look quite relaxed in a very open faced in all these things are kind of physical signatures. The key in any case in which more than words actually eighty percent of all physical languages in gesture and physical movement and not words underway choreography, is all about that is about. Taking it and extending in really interesting ways. You once said fascinating that your info didn't bodies. Misbehaving yeah tell me more about letting it away. It relates to this idea. That technique is a codify language that people understand, and that is, is structured in a very particular way and I think the pretence the body so much wider and greater than that, I'm alone to explore the that possibility the potential of a body robin what the body already knows. Do you ever meet?
distance from dancers who say that it is simply impossible. I didn't it will. I shall you'd eve you sometimes do, but news was interested in it with answers. Is you got the dancer? Those are that's impossible and then the dancing next to them doing it you know you just use the ones you can work with. I think one of the wonderful things about dance to is that, because it's a collaborative out form, we're already getting energy and input from the body that stood in front of you, so you can even kind of give it a suggestion, and it starts to tell you what to do so when you get into that flow of making is very recursive, it's very intuitive, so it's co authoring rather than me, telling and imprinting myself on them and if you've got a room full of really extraordinary dancers, who were in a state of readiness can't disappoint them, you're working with them to deliver something extraordinary together, but it really is a wee nor I endeavour music, of course, has to occupy an essential part of your creative, It was due listen to different music to relax than you listen to when you're trying to Imagine a piece I do. Listen,
If I might, my I've got very eclectic kind of musical tastes if you like, but I think it means will import, that's what I'm working with a piece of music. I ass a kind of almost sits inside my body. I have to feel let it rest it's in reverberates in my ribcage, and I had to feel compelled to want to work with it over and over again. So, if you think about a piece of music that I make for choreography, I might have to listen to three four hundred times, and so it needs to have real value immediately. I have to just really love it. I have to fall in love with the Even if it's challenging tell me about the first piece we're going to hear this morning. So this is a composer, nor is incredible, composer called esa pekka Salonen and this piece is called eli variations, as if a huge kind of thrilling ride for full orchestra.
the The The. The
the. That was part of any evaluations performed by non essential, is philharmonic and conducted by the composer as a peck. the greco you were the first risen, choreographer royal verbally and not to have trained While it was seen at the time to have been a bold appointment, custer mind back a decade with within those walls. Those hallowed walls of reception were you given. When you first arrived, I think within company I was given an amazing reception. I found a company that was really hungry for new kind of creative challenges. I found a kind of a a prideaux. shouldn't organization. People who help you realize the things the stays lexicographer really excited to. Try the ideas and fire fighting. majority of the audience, really open too the way of expression you collaborative approach? Your intellectual curiosity is something that marks out your process, I think, and
it seems to know no bounds in two thousand and five you. You decided to go and watch some open heart surgery. What why did you need to do that and what happened while I was making it a piece about the the heart and, I want to do it with a heart certainty to actually build a better kind of knowledge about it, so he thought you'd be really great. For me, I am to go to open house injury- and I had a quite embarrassing experience in there in that I fainted during I'd, imagined that I was going to be behind the screen. You know looking in through the window, and actually I was scrubbed up in the operating theatre and one of the things I hadn't expected was not I'm not at all squeamish. I expected the blood in the ribcage opening. I hadn't expected the smell of the cauterization. I think that kind of took me totally unaware, so I ended up
on my back with my legs in the air and then decision cummings, make sure I was all right, not exactly a poetic position. Haiti great wasn't. My fine is made. How did that affects you according to him when you decided to input it? Well, I think you know what was amazing about. It is visible sing the dexterity, the surgeon in environments he was. He was operating to music bar, in fact, which was really interesting and so he'd actually charged. I am operating environment with a kind of another sense of consciousness if you like, which I thought was really beautiful, really poetic. And then you see the body, you actually see the materiality of the body, so I think I tried to do all the time when I'm with your new pieces is to really delve into kind of the detail of work to describe my imagination in different way, and hopefully the collaborators imagination in a different way. You talk about your life's work in such. involved, I mean easily understandable, but it is very complex what you do here? We are a nation obsessed. bbc. One point
by watching strictly come dancing. Would you make a strictly do what I do? I think it is amazing because what you see there are people who don't normally dance having to go through a process where they have to put their body through kalganov deal in a way they have to kind of activate in re energised, all of those things that they have lost in terms of their physical abilities that they had as they were children and that they have to find a way than of coordinating themselves, and what I love about strictly is that journey for them. stars that led the actually you see them almost colored, despotic nor able to move. You know literally misbehaving and over time you see that bodies thought to have rhythm and start have flow I think that's really extraordinary. It's never too late to dance, and it's never too late to get back in touch with your body. Let's listen to your second disc wayne mcgregor. What are we going to hear so since we played some open cords and rejoiced by a group called a winged victory for the sullen and it's one of those kind of open b it's a kind of emotional heart rending pieces. Diner
hmm the hmm, the the,
That was, we played some open chords and rejoiced by a winged victory, but the sullen wingrave. As I mentioned, you rose up in in stop ports, but your principles, Scott, hardly find themselves on the on the outskirts of manchester them. I think you know what my is met when they were super young, so my mom was seventeen and my dad was eighteen, so they've been together fifty two years and I think, had maybe a day apart and all of that time, which is quite remarkable, and you know they were there, both in that from a very working class backgrounds and were not happy in scotland. I think we're feeling very stifled. I think one day they kind of went home beneath furniture and moved to england and moved with very little money, but with a kind of a wish for different kind of life. Now that is a dramatic act, esa, dramatic
Japan is a brave act. You know, and I think they had to strengthen one another. I think one of the wonderful things about my parents is that they have that kind of trust and compassion for one another that allows them to do things that perhaps they generation wouldn't do and has been a wonderful gift to see that and to experience it and to have in my life- and you are an only child, but they had left, they fostered many. They did. They foster children. Before I I was born and, and afterwards my mum had two miscarriages. I think they always wanted a larger family, but I think that capacity for love, that capacity for joy and comfort and just confidence, giving you the confidence to try things. I think, is really wonderful and it something I really trying inspiring people who being created for the first time. Just give it a go, was what is there to lose? Take the risk. I think he would.
in a roundabout seven, when Saturday night fever came out a little bit older by the time grease ye might. But you definitely wouldn't have been allowed to see saturday night fever. You might just have sneaked into greece if you lied about your age and tell me about the impression that John Travolta made upon you when you saw him, move and danced with just incredible them, and I heard the music first in my local dancing school. Had this amazing kind of ballroom latin american teacher marjorie bother, you know the kind archetypal boring as she was when I first started in her mid seventies, huge eyelashes, Siena, really quite strict, but she would play the songs and we went down to them, but she was quite unusual in that she hated competition. She didn't like the idea of competition and even though I was pretty talented in ballroom, a latin american does my partner samantha am, I was allowed to do any competition, so
as a kind of a a compromise. She, let me make up my own versions of the rum barrel. The chatter and I realized. Actually, this is my first touch. Points for career graphy, who I was able to do, is to make variations of something that was a heritage piece of a charter char and use that to make something new, and then she would notice- and let me do that- and let me teach that so I think that It really is kind of formative experience for me, but John Travolta, watching the big eventually what I did see him watching that pure physicality, the wrongness of that body, the ease and effortlessness the the effect it had on everybody around it is made me want to do it more really. Did someone use it when your search. I grew up in the seventies, as you know, and Jim Reeves is very big in the seventies and my parents used to listen to this track a lot. Have I told you lately that I love you when I hear this racket it makes me smile all the time it reflects my parents, love for each other and the love I had grown up. I love you
it took, and some the EU though, so, do you well done? Have I told you lately that I that was Jim leaves at we macgregor tell me: when did you get the sense of you with marjorie barlow entering the cha cha cha and re imagining you were dead probably a little bit of dance in school as well. At that time, in the seventies or yeah, we were doing english. sensing a maypole dancing, a very early on when I was four or five years old in and so was and a point at which he thought ooh. This is my thing, I'm a hand, crank loved loved it. I just really it I just I just loved the movie. I was very physical child anyway, slightly hyperactive did gymnastics near lots of athletics swimming. Also, at that point I was doing amateur dramatics. I was doing lots and lots of musicals much of your choreography
ensues lastingly embraces technology in the staging in the subject matter, as it in asia were you an early adopter, you somebody that was Atari, eight hundred or a bbc yeah. So well I remember my very first computer was a texas instruments, computer and I would spend hours and hours on it. Just kind of coding, so you'd put in holds years of numbers and eventually like a little worm, would just go scream, but it would literally take hours. So it's very natural kind of extension. For me technologies it is as natural for me to where technology is as it is to it with music, and you were appointed the government's first ever use dance champion. I think, two thousand and eight to two thousand and ten yeah. You talk about this experience that you had you know dancing around maples are doing the talent tell her whatever it was in gym classes and do you think there's enough of it in schools, the day. Did you see evidence that these things are still ongoing? Yet this does not enough of it.
It has to be more, but I think we've always done ourselves a bit of a disservice in the us to say the arts is supplementary to maths in english, and I think it's really important to actually dance is as important. One of the reasons that some people go to school is actually to have experiences in drama. Experiences in dance, but also can have that knowledge transfer the brilliant things that dance has to offer education just generally your physical education, yes, but also your mental creative innovation education I thought you needed to speak up. Let's try and get more money into schools for people to will have the opportunity to do more. More of that and unfortunately, over the last four or five years that has been eroded and eroded, there will be plenty see your parents and other interested parties who hear you say that dance and creativity is as important as maths and they will raise an eyebrow at that one. that really what you say. I think I think I'm saying that I think are all my experiences in work, and I think most of them are about building relationships with people that interpersonal thereabout
leave taking me energy of someone using my energy to be able to convince them to help me develop a project wherever that is, and those kind of trust. verbal skills issue about understanding, physical intelligence and interesting ways get you to be able to do things to make things to create things. I think Guinea is super important to understand. The intelligence is cross, many many domains. maybe it's time to hear some of your music we're gonna, listen to your forth, so this is impromptu and g flat major by schubert is piece of music. I first heard when I was in a production of waiting for godot. When I was sixteen, I played vladimir in the school canteen, and with a really inspirational teacher, called tony watson and I was doing one of my speeches he sat down and played this piece of music over the top of it
That was really bizarre that I was acting my heart out, and I had this kind of like schubert piece next to it, and what it really taught me at that point is two very different kinds of art was coalescing at the same time, to give you added value in terms of meaning. So how is it that music, primed with words, could say so much more than either in isolation? The The the,
the no was he into yonder playing part of schubert's impromptu in g flat, major at wayne mcgregor, you did a degree in choreography at least It's then a spell in new york, the jose limon at school there. Why did you decide that you wanted to be a choreographer rather not answer? I think I didn't really decide. I think it kind of a you know. I've got very long body, can see and what I tell you, I'm six foot to work very long limbs
very long unusual. Exactly and so one of the things that nobody can do, because, If I can fold almost like origami into kind of quite strange little combinations of stuff so I always moved in that way, and so I, wants to dance in my own work. He was kind of useful arrogance in a way you'd I've been in america american. That time was the kind of the centre of postmodern dance. These incredible growth is like camp must come in performing life with John K Is she playing live free in the parks and they had this amazing period in new york, where you could see practically all the choreographers most offend lucinda childs? Oh he's incredible really iconic grover's I'd only read about perform free, live in new york, and it just made. You feel that you should just be doing your own things. I came back to london, where this kind of useful arrogance and zest for life and wanting to do my thing, and so I made a little piece and you is set up. You first answer it. When you were twenty two, your first dance company, I mean that takes a very specific sort of content
some twenty two year came naturally to you. Did it come that gm and I you know I sought it is done cell amateur in london, which is a kind of a professional. and so the other makes communities through dance. I did that for two years in his london and they would give me the local youth center to rehearse it and I'd make my peace, so that was me doing things like tea dances from the local community, It was early bilingual nurse through dance to teach language again it is all about people and people dancing and how that can effect change in terms of regeneration. This idea of dance as a sort of community he's in that it can aids that sense of a community coming together. Give me a concrete example of where you ve seen that lots and lots of places a few years ago. Wife, years ago. I did a peace in northern ireland. We both protestants and catholics and what was really amazing about that is just a hundred young people coming together and through dance experience. Something
What cooperation working together looks like, and then their parents and their families coming to watch it in a neutral sites were actually art is able to in some way surpass or transcend the the meat yeah political difficulties and there was evidence you saw evidence. Did you among catholic and protestant communities who came together for that purpose of dance that that, actually afterwards, those were friendships that last and activities that last year, but It just the conversation in generate a conversation you through a body and beyond words. You know that actually, if I'm experiencing somebody's weight, when they're falling backwards- and I am responsible for making sure that they don't fall- and I softly place them on the floor and rotate them rounds when you actually feel a body a real presence in real time. It affects everything about how you feel about that body. You personalize it becomes about the individual. You realize that the maid
same flesh and blood. It kind of tells you more about your similarities in your differences, as have small music when we're on your fifth term about this, why view chosen I've chosen this because you know we all have kind of quiet days. When I have a quiet day, I sometimes need something. That's really going to get me going and what I love about species in the third movement of electric counterpoint by the one for composers, steve right and it's a piece it is just so insistent it kind of it pushes you into action to find a way, and I guess, as the reich is one of my heroes, I had to include him in my list.
that was the safe movement of stephenses elected, tend to point played by johnnie green. Would you mainstage performance at the royal uprising
garden was cromer anti seismic six. Some of the music memorably was by jack white of the white stripes and John person had designed this vague as expect meaningless, cube of lies, it became a success. Did it feel like a risk, I think I went in there very naive lie just to make something I really wanted to make, and I think what I've learned over time that I've gone in cycles of doubting and working out, whether or not this is the right way to do it, but going into really staying true to what you want to make at whatever cost, whether or not to be successful with critics. All of that with the company really make something that you feel a massive imperative to make, and I felt that with cromer it was kind of effort, listen away, because I really wanted to make that I was surprised me was the reaction to it and what surprised me since you decade later. It's in thirteen companies in the world has a massive impact on ballet in with a really very clusium companies like, for example, the bolshoi in russia. There was a kind of nervousness about whether or not there would it would take to its in vienna to accuse around the theater and people really loved it and
was phenomenal being in russia and hearing those old russian coaches? You know in the nineties it worked. ballet all of their lives, and one would expect them to be very conservative. Be nothing but full of admiration for the rigour in the precision and the difficulty of that work and understanding the valleys of twenty first century art form that has to keep growing evolving and change? Answer It is the audience as the third party in that collaboration, really it's their total appreciation of it. That really makes the thing stand up. It is totally, and you know there is thrilling when you have an audience response of the work in a really phenomenal way. A lot of the learning is when they don't. You know, because you know really the piece only works when it lives in front of an audience and the energy that you give to an audience you get back or you get married in a particular kind of way. I used to experience that when I danced You can really feel every movement in an auditorium when you're out there performing. You got sense that when you are three thousand people there, it's just like this block, but now it's very individualized. You can feel weather's kind of curiosity
is see at one side you can feel where somebody's getting irritated and you'll see where somebody's coughing is very particular and dances, a super susceptible to that. Let's have some music when Mcgregor it's time for you or six piece. Just tell me a little bit about this. Why have you chosen? It while this is a piece of chosen- because you know I'm obsessed with collaboration- and this is a young artist called jilin and a tranquil unknown tongues she's in a really twenties she's from Gary indiana she spent of her life working in a steel mill and just given up to construct a music full time, I've, never Anything like it in sounds. I will work with us cause is the language so unfamiliar just think. She's phenomena.
The in tongues by children and women in the world Does its interpreted or or re imagined for the stage by you, it can look intimidating, it can look beautiful, it can look, sometimes freakish. I can set up a couple of names at the beginning of your predecessors of you is like Ashton and milan quite often to watch their battle. Is- there- is a sort of gideon perfection to what they have created Where do you stand on escapism for escapism sake? Well,
I think I'm very interested in can present tense of my work is described as kind of futuristic and I don't think it's futuristic. I think it's just really dealing with the preoccupations of two and for me some of these two stoopin kind of ideas are escaping in some of those kind of things that we work on an in beauty are beautiful to me and I think was really amazing about the way in which culture is moved is that there is a real ranges, kind of what the nature of perfection is. You know and ruinous is perfect. No minimalism is perfect. Rob s obvious perfect. The handmade touch is perfect, if we look very different colored barometers of the ideal- in a way- and I love the EU minimalist at home- I am absolutely definitely
I love you. I realise the walk into europe. Upon my word, I got my parents overstay. What does a furniture coming is very, very empty. I could happily live. We just paintings in books and a guess somewhere to sit, and I think you need to move into spaces where she got kind of a space. To think in a space to imagine is really wonderful. I find it restful. You have, of course, had huge success, but also the dark critics who don't like often what they describe as the sort of hyperkinetic nature of your work. Does criticism bother you? You know. I am of the type that red everything. I try not to take it personally, sometimes that superhot, but there's always something that one kids learn and take from it and maybe use some critics. Obviously I use the badge of honor. They don't like the word, because so often they detest them of the phenomenon. Because I love the most in the world people like spirit ass. You go on less cunningham
criticism so much is about who people are and what their filters on how they make meaning from things rather than what I'm doing you work so much. What, inches outside of dance? While I like architecture I like to have some quiet time, we have a beautiful house in kenya on lomi, which has got no roads and no cars just that african kind if horizon that just goes on and on and on is really the best place we go where we can just read and swim and play with a dog and just do very, very quiet, normal thing you say we yeah my wheel upon antwerp. My partner and I've been together for thirteen years, he's wanted People that you meet and everybody falls in love with him straight away, but I think the thing that we most is that we have, using sense of play, and we just do lots of silly things together and laugh about. Tell me then about the next piece of music? So this was easy. This is a reversal. Flat saw the first time ever. I saw your face but sung by george Michael, whose voice in this, I think
just phenomena and you are choosing it because I'm shooting up because of antwerp. Partly I really remember the first time I saw his face and I think everybody when they interact with him get a real sense of joy and love. The first time so you are The sun, yeah? the
first time ever, I saw your face. Suddenly, like George Michael, we spoke at the beginning when macgregor about the questions you want to explore through your work and students, over the years. I wonder, have your creative endeavours furnished you with many answers. I dont mean complete answers, but have you found the areas of life have been eliminated in a new way for you through your work. yeah. I mean I think so, but I think I'm I think, marula. We tried to work out why we hear what you're about- and I think one of the wonderful things about dans is the I have the real privilege to do that every day. In some way, as I get older, obviously there's a whole different range of preoccupations, because you have this archive of where you got this outcome of imagination and knowledge, and I was leaving not just an expert in a way anyway? What you want to to do is unlearn the great choreographer merce cunningham said he spent his life on learning.
And I think that's really hard. We all have formulas by which we live. We all have form is by which we look and experienced the world your brain is predisposed to that can construct, meaning in those kind ways so to china pick. Those is actually quite hard to remain open a you said that Man is now being done. Did you say, thirteen deviations of oil, and I suddenly We will now you you're, becoming the classes, steer the person whose whose offering, as these classics you no longer the disruptor you're, no longer the person who comes in and shows a different way. Are you comfortable with not be? and on phone. Terrible ending is wonderful because I think why does it creates a whole lot of space for these really amazing artists who working at the edge of culture, you should be doing more more unfunded, more. You know, I think, more, the great thing about the art, wills and again dances, the right, sir, it is about renewal is about new provocations. It's about people of today,
finding their own way and I think, must really important, ass polly. Why mentor I dont mental young croak visas, because I want to be nice to them, and I get so much back. I learn a lot. I want actually to use them to provoke me out of any complacency that might sit in my own life and I think, is really wonderful to be served. by young makers. He's got that passion of that twenty two year old I've had in the night those who are really really pushing at the edges and questioning waiting light. That does it have to be like that you're, a highly collaborative listen and you rely on all sorts of professional support systems to get together these great productions that you might not on the island mates.
You'll be all alone, I'm back how you could handle that. I don't know I mean I mean she quite good with alone time. I am. I am quite good the loan time and I think the great thing is I my instrument is my body and I should just keep going and what will you do with you? But will you put your body into training? Will you just ass moves? You'd know identical my body and training hope lotteries regime swimming cross training laughing. I quite liked you. until now, where I can tell me about your everything's them. What are we gonna hear? So this is a peace by the brilliant american composer. Stephen sometime is from a production of a little like music like the musical staging from in, early, nineteen, nineteen, ninety five and it's cool. Sending the clown sung by judy damage Hmm. see
hm me you made end in send in the clowns from the nineteen. Ninety five national fears, production of stephen sondheim's, a little night music sung there by dame judi dench. It's time for me to give you the complete works of shakespeare and the bible, and you get to take another book to what will your book be? Oh, yes, I would. Did rose encyclopedia she, the first ever encyclopedias, but the m. The compilation of drawings is only drawings from the age of enlightenment, that range from politics, the philosophy to languages and work out what they mean its use and allow Should we then his lunch. I really wanted to bring my with pits, but I'm not allowed to do that. We will not know so. I think you know I
I would really love and our work by the japanese artists, tat suit me a gmo and it's cool life, and I love it so much. Has his digital, its spiritual, and it really takes me to a place where you really the sunrise. Cities are important. Why culture is important and why people are important, as he was also than and tell me if you had to save just one track, which one track I would save a winged victory for the sullen. We played some open cords and rejoiced serious way. Macgregor. Thank you. very much for us hear your desert island discs. Thank you. So much the
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Transcript generated on 2022-06-19.