Timepiece – Wayne McGregor/Conrad Shawcross: Camden Roundhouse, London, 1-25 August 2013

It’s about time he did another piece

You are the sunshine of my life. Conrad Shawcross' Timepiece hits the bright lights of Camden.

You are the sunshine of my life. Conrad Shawcross’ Timepiece hits the bright lights of Camden.

Full of enterprising ideas about putting dance works into unexpected spaces, Wayne McGregor’s followed up last summer’s jaunt at the Barbican’s Rain Room with this little number at the Camden Roundhouse.

Timepiece is actually the name of an installation created by artist Conrad Shawcross which is on view at the famous north London music venue until 25 August. The artwork is a large robotic structure of three conjoined metallic rods that dangle from the roof and rotate at different speeds. Rather like Shawcross’ giant robot that dominated the Royal Opera House stage when he last collaborated with McGregor in Machina for the Royal Ballet’s Titian 2012, each rod has a moving wand with a bright lightbulb attached to it. These lights cast all sorts of pale, strong or flickering shadows that drift and sweep across the Roundhouse building – the effect is gently reflective and strangely soothing, like a child’s bedtime lantern.

Into this shadowy kaleidoscope of light and movement step McGregor’s Random dancers (selected days only). They lunge, swoop and extend themselves in much the satisfying way you’d expect from McGregor’s choreography. The audience can come in to the venue whenever they choose and can wander about the edges of the performance wherever they please but generally they sit on the floor in museum-like silence.

Problems are first evident in the sheer size of the arena; an unspoken stage is created within the circular boundary of the pillars that hold up the roof but the area is still vast. To help fill the space, the ten dancers regularly patrol and perform at its edges and they often run run run from one side to the other but it’s hard to escape the feeling that they’re performing for someone else most of the time, it’s often like you’re watching from the wings.

The other issue lies in the dancers’ disconnection with an artwork that hovers high out of reach. Apart from the tall sun-dial needle that marks the centre of the floor, there’s little opportunity for the dancers to interact with the mechanical timepiece, so for most of the time I was watching they basically ignored it. As the work wore on clever ideas started to emerge with dancers straining Icarus-like to reach the sun-bright object or else performing as though blinded by the sharp glare. Whether this was a developing response to the artistic environment or a pre-planned escalation of interaction was difficult to tell but it was by far the most engaging aspect of the performance.

McGregor’s interventions for Timepiece lack the immediacy and warmth of the Rain Room experiment and it struggles to leave any real depth of impact on the heart or mind; it’s not clear what the connection between artwork and performance is and the space really is too cavernous for a truly satisfying experience. It is however, pleasing to watch and the constantly shifting patterns of light playing with the dancers movement is fascinating to see. It’s also great to see the dancers apparently working out ideas on the hoof and there’s something excitingly disturbing about having the dancers sitting behind you while they catch their breath before their next outpouring of effort – it kind of puts you in their vision of the show.

Timepiece runs at Camden Roundhouse until 25 August 2013 and the Random dancers perform from 2-5pm on 11 & 25 August (incidentally, Siobhan Davies Dance are also presenting their own take on the space on 17, 23 & 24 August). Tickets can be bought at the venue on the day but although it’s proudly advertised that you can pay what you like, you’re really expected to pay the minimum of a £5 ‘donation’.

Gerard Davis

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