Choreographer and director Wayne McGregor says knighthood is ‘incredible’

Cutting-edge choreographer and director Wayne McGregor has praised the royal family for their support of the arts as he was given a knighthood in the King’s Birthday Honours.

The 54-year-old, who is the artistic director of Studio Wayne McGregor, has been honoured for his services to dance.

Over the years he has become known for his innovation in the world of dance and his appointment in 2006 as a resident choreographer for The Royal Ballet saw him become the first from a contemporary dance background in the role.

He told the PA news agency of his knighthood: “It’s incredible. I’m really, really delighted, and I’m just thrilled because I’ve been nurtured by so many amazing people over 33 years in dance… This is just a lovely reflection of all of that work we’ve done together.”

Wayne McGregor holding an award given to him at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards
Wayne McGregor is also the director of dance for the Venice Biennale (Ian West/PA)

His works at The Royal Ballet over the years have included 2017’s Woolf Works, a ballet based on the writings and life of Virginia Woolf which also included an original score by Max Richter.

Others include 2006’s Chroma, which featured music from American band The White Stripes and British composer Joby Talbot.

He is the director of dance for the Venice Biennale, and has been commissioned by dance companies across the globe including the Paris Opera Ballet, New York City Ballet, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the National Ballet of Canada and many more.

Recently, he adapted author Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed trilogy of books – Oryx And Crake, The Year Of The Flood and MaddAddam – into a three-act ballet titled MADDADDAM.

A co-commission by the National Ballet of Canada and The Royal Ballet, it featured a score from Richter and costume designs from English designer Gareth Pugh, whose celebrity client roster includes Beyonce, Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga.

Last year, he premiered UniVerse: A Dark Crystal Odyssey with Company Wayne McGregor at the Royal Opera House, which was described as a “moving and startling meditation on the climate crisis”, inspired by the 1982 cult classic The Dark Crystal.

He told PA: “The royal family have always been amazing supporters of the arts.

“And at a point where culture is being really vandalised in many ways in the world, it’s really important that art and artists and culture is really supported and honoured, and the royal family have always had a passion for the arts in that way and that’s really incredible when we see in the arts now, in education and the professional sector, there are less and less opportunities for young people to access the arts.

“And so to have an honour that allows us to advocate still for the arts is really important”.

Another project saw him choreograph for Abba Voyage, the popular show which sees avatars of the Swedish group – Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – perform their biggest hits in a specially made arena in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London.

He said: “It marries two of my great passions. In the 70s, I was learning to dance to Abba songs, ballroom and Latin American and disco dancing lessons to Abba songs.

“And so the opportunity to work with Abba live in the rehearsal room, doing dance was kind of extraordinary. And I was able to say (to them) ‘Your music has been part of my dance history’.

“But also marries that with my great interest in new technologies and real innovation in technologies, and how you can humanise technology, how technologies can be empathetic.

“Because I think what you find with that show, hopefully, is you get a really emotional connection with what is essentially light moving on stage.

“That’s partly the power of music, you feel they’re there, you feel a real human connection. And this is the power of potential new technology to be able to activate this sense in us.”

McGregor, who studied choreography at the former Bretton Hall College, which merged with the University of Leeds, and also holds a honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art, said of using his platform to advocate for the arts: “I grew up in a working class background in Stockport, just outside of Manchester.

“I had really amazing parents who were super supportive of the work that I did.

“But if it wasn’t for the kind of teachers who were arts-passionate at school, if it wasn’t for the local amateur dramatic societies, if it wasn’t for the opportunity for me to be able to go to university on a grant to do dance, I wouldn’t be able to have done all the things that I’ve done.

“So it’s really important that we invest early in young people’s cultural education, and it’s really important that we make sure that young people can be championed through a whole series of progression routes… which includes universities.

“This idea of cutting so-called soft degrees out of universities, which are often some of the cultural degrees, is ridiculous when there’s an agenda around innovation and collaboration and building better communities.

“Because arts, as we know, not only has a massive impact on the economy, but it has an incredible impact on social cohesion and finding ways to discuss things and talk about things together”.