Review: Dancing the Genome in Wayne McGregor’s ‘Autobiography’

Even with a title as seemingly straightforward as “Autobiography,” a dance by the brainy British choreographer Wayne McGregor isn’t likely to be plain memoir. And sure enough, the work, which had its United States debut at the Joyce Theater on Tuesday, was partly generated through science. Mr. McGregor had his genome sequenced. Before each performance a computer algorithm based on that biographical data determines the sequencing of the dance’s 23 sections. So each performance is different.

Yet for a work to be reordered meaningfully, it must have some comprehensible order to begin with. In “Autobiography,” the title and number of each section are flashed as that section starts, and the titles suggest parts of a life, or ideas about one: Nature, Nurture, Aging, Sleep. Yet if these titles were decoupled from their sections and reshuffled, it would make little difference. The one called “Memories” could just as well be “Choosing.”

The cause is within, less the ordering of sections than the ordering of steps. Mr. McGregor’s troupe is no longer called Random Dance — it’s Company Wayne McGregor — but his sense of sequence is still random in effect, section to section and moment to moment. As ever, his androgynous dancers are a hyper-flexible tribe, able to stretch, splay and bend every which way. Amid this signature elasticity, Mr. McGregor now adds emotional gestures: heads in hands, bodies cradling bodies. But these gestures are just extra bits in the blender, no more or less affecting.

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