Thoughts on Chroma

Ed Watson and Mara Galeazzi (Royal Ballet) in Wayne McGregor's 'Chroma' 

Ed Watson and Mara Galeazzi (Royal Ballet) in Wayne McGregor's 'Chroma' 


I am most taken by the partnering in Wayne McGregor's 'Chroma' for a few reasons; all to do with what I consider innovations within his approach to a ballet partnering format.

Wayne McGregor has a true sense of three-dimensionality in his movement in general, which carries over to his partnering choreography with stunning results.  I am drawn to the elements, in 'Chroma,' of off-center, weight-sharing/counter-balance, freedom within restraint, and his use of multiple planes and axes in motion.  All of these principles, which are most commonly associated with contact improvisation or contemporary partnering, are, in the case of 'Chroma,' utilized within the context of the more traditional frame work of a ballet partnering structure.  Here, we often see the man behind the woman, primarily utilizing his hands and arms to lift, support, and manipulate her in various ways.  Considering that description, one could easily recall any one of the many pas de deux from the cannon of classical ballet, as well as within most of what is considered contemporary, neoclassical or other new ballet forms.  McGregor's departure from the norm happens in the execution and combination of truly magnificent shapes and movements within this traditional set-up of 'man behind woman.'  As seen in the first pas de deux in 'Chroma,' Wayne uses stabilization as an anchor for more movement freedom on top of a controlled structure.  I see this clearly in moments where the man almost holds the woman down in a balance as she snakes and spirals her back; as if she is a worm trying to break free from the grasp of a curious child.  By anchoring and stabilizing her base, in balance over her supporting leg, he is freeing her upper body for extremely active, multi-directional movement.  Had she attempted to execute this alone, she would likely fall off balance after the very first torso snarl.  We see a similar iteration of this motif when the male dancer lifts the female dancer in a sort of first position grande plié up in line with his chest.  Holding her there, she snarls and snakes side to side with minimal movement of her lower body, other than the required leverage to facilitate these multi-directional spirals.  The most stunning versions of this idea is the very last image we see in this first pas where, in an arabesque pliée toward the front diagonal, the man stabilizes her weight and balance with his own counter-balance, freeing her torso up for the signature serpentine snarl motif.

This motif, of freedom within stabilization, is also represented in reverse with the woman stabilizing herself in a static shape and the man, in various ways, moving her in space or redirecting her in one piece.  We see this in a repeating motif where, from her side tilt facing upstage, the man wraps his arms around her waist and with only a slight redirection of her standing leg, he shifts this shape by laying her over his thigh and changing her axis so she is now almost upside down in a diagonal across his base - legs split now horizontal as opposed to vertical.  We also see many "catch and carry" lifts, as I will call them, where the woman sustains a seemingly stiff, static position as the man lifts her in high, delicate arcs; addressing both the horizontal and the vertical.  We also see this idea represented in tight, multi-deirectional pirouette sequences where he will spin her on her vertical axis, stop her and spin her in the other direction with only slight positional changes on her part.  This particular iteration reminds me of the style and signature of La La La Human Steps (, a contemporary ballet company based in Montreal, known for their fast and frenzied hand partnering (as I like to call it).  They women often dance on pointe, which reduces friction for more freedom in turning/spinning, but the movement is rooted in a similar mechanical functionality within the partnering.

One other approach I would like to point out is seen in the tender, gentle pas de deux that comes about halfway in the piece (starting at 12:55 in the full video included in my previous post 'Chroma' by Wayne Mcgregor 9/13/13).  Here we see a continual, elegant use of counter-balnce with intricate, intertwining shapes falling away from each other, off-center promenades and sweet moments where he jostles her slightly off balance almost as if they are discovering her balancing potential together.  I am also drawn to moments in this pas where the male dancer sweeps the female dancer's supporting leg out from under her, flowing into a new motion or finding a new shape.  One of my favorite moments in this duet is when she dévelopés her left leg over him and, supporting her pelvis from underneath, he softly moves her through a sort of jeté over his shoulder, gently placing her down in a plié arabesque behind him (~13:55).

I could go on forever about the many moments that leave me in awe, but I will stop here and encourage you to watch for yourself and discover if these or other moments speak to you.

Wayne McGregor and his work for Random Dance ( are an endless source of inspiration for me that I have been drawn to since first discovering them 10 years ago late one night in my High School dorm.  I will leave you with a link to Wayne's TED talk where you can see in a broad scope some of the aspects of his approach to choreography and development as well as generation of partnering material.  Enjoy!