Wayne McGregor’s +/- Human review at London’s Roundhouse – ‘engaging experiment in human-to-drone interaction’
Seven white globes come gliding into the central space of the Roundhouse. Small propellers whirring, they dance in the air of the industrial, cathedral-like space as a line of 15 dancers assembles beneath them. Clad in black underwear and plimsolls, their torsos emblazoned with a black plus or minus sign, the dancers take over the central arena, encircled by the audience.
An opening solo is full of liquid muscularity, grounded and curling to the alternately startling and soothing electronic sounds that ricochet around the space. As others enter the arena to engage in twisted, grappling duets, it takes on the aspect of an ancient Greek amphitheatre watched overseen by the flying albino beach balls.
Although the benign-looking drones stay far above the reach of the dancers, they appear to shift position according to the movements of the bodies beneath them. Occasionally, they hover in formation before splitting like atoms to take individual paths around the ceiling. Some of the dancers seem unaware of their presence. Others, like the Royal Ballet’s Edward Watson, keep an eye on them at all times as if attempting to work out who is controlling whom.
Throughout the performance there is the sensation of being watched. The arena evolves into a giant Petri dish and it is not hard to imagine alien homunculi inside the spherical drones studying the specimens below. Although they resemble the deadly white globe ‘Orange Alert’ that chased Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner, they are more curious than threatening.
When one of the globes sinks to the ground, propellers failing to keep it aloft, it is gently tossed back into the air by one of the dancers until carried out of the arena with a tenderness that unwittingly speaks volumes about the potential relationship between man and machine.
While not quite as dynamic as John Cale and Liam Young’s drone orchestra performance at the Barbican three years ago, the combination of slippery conceptualism and powerful dancing makes for an engaging, lightly immersive experience.