Wayne McGregor / Random Dance, Sadler's Wells, London

Far from heartless, but totally far-out
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The Independent Culture

For a man who's regularly called a boffin and a cybergeek, it must feel good to prove you have a beating heart.

The opening minutes of Wayne McGregor's latest creation with his rubber-limbed group, Random, is as close to soft-focus intimacy as you're likely to get from Britain's edgiest, most prolific, most ambitious choreographer. Not for nothing is one of his earlier works, Entity, about to be downloadable to an iPod – not just a first for contemporary dance, but for dance of any kind.

Wayne McGregor Random (he insists on that formulation, to give his dancers their collaborative due) have not always thrilled me. I am sceptical of the experiments in cognitive science that McGregor claims underpin the work – not doubting the science, as such, but its applicability to performance destined for a theatre stage. Every artist has their process, their means of breaking free of creative habit. How she or he arrives at this is immaterial to the end result.

I am also wary of danceworks that require pages of programme notes to make sense of them. So it was that I watched FAR with a blissfully open mind. Oblivious to the choreographer's explanation that FAR stands for "Flesh in the Age of Reason", the title of a recent book on 18th-century explorations into the nature of the body and notions of the soul, I decided it referred to the far-off continent of Africa, where McGregor spends some of his time. All the nuzzling, prowling, stalking, snaking, shivering and slithering features of the dancers' movements made perfect sense in terms of African wildlife. And this was confirmed, for me, by Ben Frost's engrossing musical score, with its snufflings, grunts and squawks seamlessly embedded in the electronically generated material.

So much for the creator's intentions. But does it matter that a person's reading of a work is so off-beam? More important is whether it holds us rapt for its full duration. And, for the first time in a work McGregor has made with Random, FAR grabs your attention and doesn't let go. The sheer novelty of the slicing angles and whiplash curves that flicker through the dancers' limbs and torsos has always been dazzling – for the first 15 minutes. FAR, though, sustains and follows through. And for all that it lasts no more than an hour, it feels substantial. The drama of rAndom International's set design (some relation, surely?) – a pinboard of tiny white lights that signals extremes of weather, from blizzard to clear night sky – is an ever-changing marvel.

Lit by flaming torches, one at each corner of the stage, held by a sentinel dancer and casting flickering golden shadows on bare skin, the opening duet is one of the most purely beautiful things McGregor has made. The intimate pianissimo control of the singing of Cecilia Bartoli – recorded Vivaldi – adds its own layer of gorgeousness, to the extent that you almost decline to breathe, for fear of breaking its spell.

There is rigour, too, in FAR. And whiplash speed, and plenty of Mr McG's trademark distortion of limbs. Yet for all its animalism (and, dammit, that is wildlife I was seeing) it glimmers with humanity.

'FAR' resumes UK touring in March

Next Week:

Jenny Gilbert boards a pumpkin coach for BRB's new Cinderella

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