Wayne McGregor: Something in the way he moves

Wayne McGregor is a radical choice as resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet, and he's envisaging a dynamic future for the company with an illustrious past, he tells Zoë Anderson

"Becoming the resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet wasn't in my game plan," says Wayne McGregor, smiling. "It was off the radar. But when we talked about it, it made so much sense, in terms of what I could contribute."

McGregor's appointment, announced this month, comes weeks after the success of Chroma, his latest work for the company. The Royal Opera House set lower ticket prices to tempt conservative audiences for a programme with two new works, Chroma and Christopher Wheeldon's DGV. After the first night, there was an immediate demand for tickets.

Until now, the Royal Ballet's resident choreographers have been company men. Frederick Ashton helped to create the company; Kenneth MacMillan and David Bintley trained at its school. McGregor comes from outside, a modern dance choreographer with no ballet training. "I don't have that sort of lineage, I'm offering something other," he says. "I think difference is often quite a dynamic catalyst."

McGregor has worked on a huge range of productions - with his own company, Random Dance; with ballet and modern companies; in musicals and plays; and in the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He has used a range of new technologies, worked on a research project with neuroscientists, and collaborated with heart-imaging specialists. "I get bored very easily," he says, "so I always find challenges to keep myself awake."

For Harry Potter, he cast children without dance training. "I felt that it was very important to have rough, raw, original talent, to have people who had an absolute passion to move but hadn't inherited a lot of the physical mannerisms that some stage schools provide. I'm not saying those stage schools are bad, at all - just that it's a very different type of child that goes through a stage school, compared to a child who has gone to school in east London, with very limited opportunities to dance."

McGregor himself was no stage-school child. Born in 1970, he wanted to dance from the age of eight, after seeing films: "John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and Grease, all those things. Ballet - or modern dance, or contemporary dance - was not on my horizon at all, I didn't have any opportunity to do it. So I did ballroom, Latin American, disco."

He went on to a degree in choreography and semiotics at University College Bretton Hall. Starting to make his own dances, he was quickly spotted as a future star. John Ashford, director of The Place, sent an early McGregor work on a European tour. "Because I had that exposure, I got a lot of international co-commissions over the years."

He's proud of that range of experience. "I've exercised my choreographic muscle in lots of different contexts. So when I go to La Scala [where he recently directed his first opera] and I have a chorus of 200 people, that doesn't bother me, because I've worked with 200 schoolkids in east London who are worse than the chorus of La Scala. Just!"

In person, McGregor is bright, articulate, communicative. He's ready to debate points, to be combative. "So were you quite surprised at my appointment?" he asks me. "Because you're not really a fan of mine, are you?" The question is perfectly frank, without a trace of complaint or insecurity.

As a dancer, the long, lean McGregor was remarkable for speed and great flexibility. Both those qualities appear in his work. His dancers drive themselves into extreme attitudes, twisting and wriggling, often grasping an ankle to pull their limbs into more drastic lines. With Random and with other companies, McGregor is good at drawing a fullness of movement from his dancers: though the positions may be eye-watering, the dancing can be very juicy.

But I've often found his choreography relentless and hard to read, its larger shapes slurred or lost in fidgeting speed. Chroma, for me McGregor's best work to date, was also his most lucid. It had a distinctive energy, with a delight in details of footwork and phrasing.

Chroma, and the dancers' eager response to McGregor, makes his appointment much less surprising. It's still a major departure for the Royal Ballet. Monica Mason, the company's director, spent the first years of her tenure steadying and strengthening the company. In 2002, she replaced Ross Stretton, who had jettisoned much of the company's signature repertory and was forced out after a single year. Mason brought back the Ashton and MacMillan ballets, emphasising Royal Ballet heritage and raising technical standards. Having taken the company back to its roots, she now makes a radical decision for its future.

A resident choreographer is in a position to make fundamental changes. It's not just that the Royal Ballet will dance more works by McGregor. Mason has already used the Ashton repertory to change the way that the Royal Ballet dances. By concentrating on those ballets, she built a shared style, redefining the company's identity. Now, with McGregor on board, that identity is set to change again. He calls the appointment "a signal of intent. Rather than just one-off pieces, Monica's giving me this process - to develop, over a period of time, a programme of work that will have some impact on the way in which the dancers move."

But this won't be an exclusive relationship. McGregor won't give up Random, his relationship with Sadler's Wells, or his freelance career. "This is not to replace those things. The whole dance world is very different than when Kenneth [MacMillan] was making, or Ashton was making. People have said, 'Oh, resident choreographer - you're going to be just at the Royal Ballet, you'll take up all the slots for new work.' That's a very old-fashioned perception. This is a much more mobile, fluid, multi-modal kind of arrangement. I want to develop a new set of relationships with the building and the organisation, to do things that aren't currently happening."

Such as? "I want to develop more choreographic mentoring, in-house here, to provide more opportunities for young choreographers. A big passion of mine is working in education with young people. I don't really want to talk about the detail of each of those projects, until they're fully formed. But could you do remote rehearsals - which we've done at Random, live from Sadler's Wells - that could be broadcast via the internet into schools? Can you make choreography with them, live from the Opera House; can you encourage young people to participate in the creation of a ballet from beginning to end, but making their own version of it as we go along? There are lots of innovative ways in which participation, access and education can marry if the focus, the central focus, is on making good quality work, whether that be for young people or for the professionals of the Royal Ballet."

McGregor speaks enthusiastically of the company's openness, its readiness to respond to challenges. "Being here, that's great for me, I'm really excited, but I'm hoping also that other choreographers see the Royal Ballet in a different way. In the outside world, people say, 'Oh, the Royal Ballet, it's very formal, very conservative, it must be really hard to work there.' But actually, it's just the opposite, it's not like that at all.

"I'm hoping that the more these types of residency programmes work, we can see that the Royal Ballet isn't just about one thing. It does several things very, very well; it has an amazing, rich and beautiful history, which absolutely I respect, love watching and want to be preserved. But it also has a very dynamic future. Not just with me, but with a range of choreographers. I'd just love to see how I can play my part in nurturing and cultivating that."

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam