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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
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.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links