MoveTube: Wayne McGregor's Infra

The National Dance awards are a chance to celebrate this duet's interpreters – the versatile Marianela Nuñez and the exceptionally individual Edward Watson

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There's no prize money, nor even much publicity attached to the National Dance awards. But they are a moment when critics can celebrate talent without qualifications or star ratings. This duet from Wayne McGregor's Infra showcases two of this year's dominating names, Marianela Nuñez (Best Female Dancer) and Edward Watson who, while pipped to the post for best male dancer, effectively shared in the award for best modern choreography for his transformative performance in Arthur Pita's Metamorphosis.

During her last few seasons, Nuñez has matured magnificently from her natural mode as sparky soubrette to become one of the Royal's most versatile ballerinas: effortlessly effervescent in Fille mal gardee; scaling raw conflicted passion in Onegin, giving a glitteringly etched reading of Balanchine's ferocious choreography in Ballo della Regina. In Infra she's in yet another gear, concentrating her resources into the elusive, inward emotions of McGregor's choreography.

Nuñez works from a core of great stillness, even as her face and body remain hyperresponsive to the nuances of the movement. Unfurling her limbs and torso through a slow motion variant of a fish dive at 0.37, she follows the phrasing though in one continuous wave, along the unfolding front leg and ebbing back through the rippling of spine and arms.

At 1.45 she's beautifully attuned to the contrast of dynamic: lifting her working leg in one light clipped move, she gives a darker, drowsier quality to its downward trajectory, creating drama out of gravity and making the air resistance palpable. Throughout the duet there are a dozen similar instances where Nuñez fills a phrase to its musical and expressive limit, through the slight angling of her head, the vertebra-by-vertebra curl of her spine.

As for Watson, no one was ever clearer about his own unlikely beginnings as a classical dancer: "I was outstandingly odd-looking, very skinny and bendy," he said in an interview with this paper. "I couldn't do all the turns and big jumps you needed for ballets like Don Quixote'

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But like many exceptionally individual dancers, Watson's weaknesses proved to be the grit that polished his talent. In this Infra footage, McGregor exploits Watson's atypical physique (his high-arched feet, exceptionally long shin bones, and super-supple joints) to extract maximum detail from every phrase. But he also uses it to create doubling effects with Nunez, as the two dancers echo and amplify each others moves (1.15 or 2.47).

Although Watson lifts and supports Nunez in a basically traditional mode, their partnership is not about male muscle power facilitating airy ballerina grace. The emotional intensity of the duet comes from a sense of shared dialogue, the two dancers elaborating the dance material together, exploring their shared space (0.57 and 2.16).

Watson has, I think, danced in every work that McGregor has choreographed for the Royal and the affinities between them become very obvious in this clip of the choreographer in physical action.

As McGregor whooshes and darts through this improvised choreography session, there are moments where the wired articulation of his body looks uncannily akin to Watson's dancing - despite the two men having trained in very different traditions.

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But Watson's range also extends to the harrowingly dramatic. This clip gives only a brief, and flashily stylised fragment of his performance in Pita's Metamorphosis but it hints at his hallucinatory effectiveness in embodying Gregor Samsa's insect state: the brittle traumatised angle of his limbs and fingers and in the closing shot the cowering claustrophobia of his shrunken world. As the remnants of Samsa's human self peer out through Watson's haunted gaze you can get some sense of why British critics judged this to be one of the highlights of the past year.


Judith Mackrell

The GuardianTramp

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