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The Royal's renegade: Wayne McGregor becomes resident choreographer.

His work is angular, cutting, and often downright dangerous. He likes club music rather than Tchaikovsky. He has found inspiration for his works from the cyber world and from biological disorders--heart disease and degenerative neurological conditions to name two. He has always eschewed the rigors of classical ballet training. And yet, much to the surprise of the company's patrons and longtime fans, The Royal Ballet announced in December that Wayne McGregor ("25 to Watch," Jan. 2001) is their new resident choreographer.

After the initial gasp of disbelief that someone so unclassical would be following in the footsteps of icons Frederick Ashton (renowned for his delicate craftsmanship) and Kenneth MacMillan (the master of dramatic storytelling), the rosin dust settled and people began to applaud director Monica Mason for taking such a brave stand.

"I've been very lucky," said McGregor on a BBG radio interview when the news broke. "It's very inspirational, that heritage. I love the Royal's potential for extremity and pushing physicality to the limit." That certainly is just what he did with the Royal dancers in Chroma, which premiered in November and received rapturous plaudits in the press. Also on the bill was a work by another celebrated British choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon. While Wheeldon seems like a logical candidate for the Royal's resident choreographer (Royal trained, Royal danced and royally received around the world) he recently announced the formation of his own company, Morphoses the Wheeldon Company, which will premiere in August at the Vail International Dance Festival.

McGregor's dance education is in glaring contrast. He has not traveled through the disciplined classical world of The Royal Ballet School system, but rather was influenced by John Travolta at an early age, which resulted in an interest in ballroom and Latin dancing. He went on to study dance academically at University College Bretton Hall in Leeds, in northern England, and then at the Jose Limon School in New York. By 1992 when he was 22, he had formed his own company, Random Dance, and within the year was appointed choreographer-in-residence at The Place, London's contemporary hot spot.

His works for Random have taken his dancers on an education beyond the studio. In Amu (of the heart), where he uses cardio-muscular magnetic imaging, they attended talks by heart specialists. He himself observed open-heart surgery to discover how the organ functioned. For AtaXia, which explores the loss of control of the nerves, he worked with neurosurgeons. And in Alpha, in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, he created a work about lost and fantastical animals from literature and music. His company, now resident at Sadler's Wells, also rehearses at a property on the island of Manda off the coast of Kenya, which McGregor bought as a retreat for his dancers.

He has choreographed for many companies, operas, musicals, and films including the ballroom scene at Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Currently he's completing a research fellowship through the University of California, San Diego, on artificial intelligence for a piece he's creating for his company, which he says will remain top of his list even with this new position. In March, San Francisco Ballet performed his Eden/Eden, and this summer he is directing the musical of the African folk tale Kirikou for the Paris Opera Ballet.

So how did Mason decide on this revolution in the Royal's staid history? "I had been thinking about the position, putting out feelers, but nothing was quite right for us," she said. "Then Wayne came in. I knew about his wide interests, his curiosity about the modern world." Mason said that during McGregor's tenure he will create new work, guide young choreographers, and work with the education department. His contract lasts until 2010, the year that Mason herself is expected to step down. Inspired by McGregor's creativity, Mason said, "I decided it was time not to be in boxes. I want to look forward."
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Title Annotation:DANCE MATTERS
Author:Willis, Margaret
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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