Even with a title as seemingly straightforward as “Autobiography,” a dance by the brainy British choreographer Wayne McGregor isn’t likely to be plain memoir. And sure enough, the work, which had its United States debut at the Joyce Theater on Tuesday, was partly generated through science. Mr. McGregor had his genome sequenced. Before each performance a computer algorithm based on that biographical data determines the sequencing of the dance’s 23 sections. So each performance is different.
Yet for a work to be reordered meaningfully, it must have some comprehensible order to begin with. In “Autobiography,” the title and number of each section are flashed as that section starts, and the titles suggest parts of a life, or ideas about one: Nature, Nurture, Aging, Sleep. Yet if these titles were decoupled from their sections and reshuffled, it would make little difference. The one called “Memories” could just as well be “Choosing.”
The cause is within, less the ordering of sections than the ordering of steps. Mr. McGregor’s troupe is no longer called Random Dance — it’s Company Wayne McGregor — but his sense of sequence is still random in effect, section to section and moment to moment. As ever, his androgynous dancers are a hyper-flexible tribe, able to stretch, splay and bend every which way. Amid this signature elasticity, Mr. McGregor now adds emotional gestures: heads in hands, bodies cradling bodies. But these gestures are just extra bits in the blender, no more or less affecting.
Instead of shape or heart, there is impressive surface style. The set by Ben Cullen Williams is a spiky metal grid that hangs above the dancers and sometimes descends upon them like a cage contracting. Lucy Carter’s lighting does even more to slice and dice the stage space. Its sweeping planes of illumination are sculptural and dynamic.
All this technical sophistication, though, seems to be at the service of a fundamentally unsophisticated sensibility, most glaringly exposed by the music. When the piece debuted in Britain, some critics complained about harsh blasts in the electronic score by Jlin. I wanted earplugs for the soft sections, protection from sentimentality and the dull thudding of chic cliché. Except for a brief respite of Corelli, we might have been in the lounge of a boutique hotel.
The combination of this music with the preening, aggressive-recessive manner of Mr. McGregor’s choreography is often close to unbearable, and the scrambled structure offers no path through the mire. For all the intellectual effort that his work has long flaunted — this program credits institutes across Europe as “ongoing scientific partners” — it has never been dry movement research. The investigations of corporeal possibilities are electrified, with enough spectacle to make you wonder what it might be masking.