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La La La Human Steps

'Amjad'

by Kate Snedeker

February 13, 2008 -- Edinburgh Festival Theatre

For his latest La La La Human Steps production, Edouard Lock has taken the barebones essence of two classic ballets, "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty" and filtered them through his unique choreographic style to come up with the fascinating, if overlong, "Amjad".  In the creation of "Amjad", Lock and composers Gavin Bryars, David Lang and Blake Hargreaves took as their starting points, the choreographic and musical themes from the two ballets.  From there they moved beyond the familiar to create an entirely unique combination of music, video and dance.  Just enough of the original remains to remind the audience of the inspiration, but what is on stage is all La La La Human Steps.

"Amjad" begins with a brief video interlude on three circular screens suspended stage front and a quartet of musicians slowly becoming visible in the dark shadows behind.  The first live notes are from "Swan Lake", the dominant musical theme, but Tchaikovsky's classic melodies have been re-arranged into a darker and deeper creation.

In the 1 hour and 45 minutes of un-interrupted dance that follows, Lock takes his dancers through a whirlwind of "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty" influenced choreography.  The dance is mix of solos, duets and group works alternating between music, silence and brief video interludes.  Lock's dancers are dressed in Vandal's black minimalist designs: suits for the men and (overly) high cut leotards for the women.  The sets and lighting are equally as spare, (by Armand Vaillancourt and John Munro respectively), placing the emphasis squarely on the dancers.

And what a company of dancers Lock has gathered!!  The four men and five women of La La La Human Steps all have impeccable technique and total commitment to the choreography.  The eye is especially drawn to the blond Zofia Tujaka who towers over her fellow ballerinas, and to the long, lithe Dominic Santia.

Unfortunately, whilst Lock's dancers never fail him, his lack of choreographic editing does, at least in the end.  It's not that the "Amjad" is not compelling – quite the opposite – but even the most dedicated audience cannot stay focused for almost two hours.  Lock also deals with a limited range of choreographic motifs, which he plays with in all sorts of combinations.  From the beginning, the influence of "Swan Lake" is unmistakable in the flapping arms, bent wrists and sprinkling of signature positions.  The movement of arms is fascinating as Lock's dancers are all sinew, the striking lighting highlighting the every curve of muscle.  Another frequent motif is supported two footed turns, the woman snapping inwards towards her partner.  Yet there are only so many ways to flap one's arms or spin a ballerina at top speed, so what was enthralling becomes more repetitive than fascinating.

Also, Lock seems to have only one speed – hectic.  This fast pace – whether in lightning, quick beats or dances spinning across the stage like tops out of control – is stunning.  Yet, the constant speed makes the choreography to the slower musical sections appear forced.  The dancers have such gorgeous lines that you wish Lock would allow them to pause a moment to show them off.  When he does take half a minute, as in the pas de deux with Tujaka and Santia both on pointe, the result is breathtaking.  A rarity in the short history of male pointe-work, Lock's choreography approaches the idea of a man on pointe with complete seriousness.  What results is deeply moving, heartfelt pas de deux between two equals. Santia moves with complete fluency, the shadowy light accenting the sinews in his bare chest and arm.  At times he seems almost more feminine than his white-dressed partner.  This reversal of roles is furthered by the appearance of another man who becomes a second partner for Santia.  The choreography is such that the male-male partnership is as natural as the male-female partnership.

In another moment that imprints on the memory, Lock has the quartet of musicians (oh how wonderful to have live music!!) spread out around the corners of the stage, the dancers in the center.  Not only are the acoustics stunning, but the effect of having the music surging from all sides seems to give a new power to the dancing.  The musicians, led by pianist and Musical Director Njo Kong Kie, are as world class as the dancers.

"Amjad" is a fascinating piece, bolstered by a company of outstanding musicians and dancers.  It's worth a first (and a second) look.  Yet one wonders if Lock wouldn't have ended up with something much more powerful if he'd limited himself to an hour or created two pieces around an intermission.

As a side note, the Dance Consortium – the group that organizes many tours of foreign companies – has sunk to a new low in program design.  After asking people to fork over £3 for a program, with no free cast lists on offer, they have the gall to spend three pages on their own productions while printing only parts of the La La La Human Steps articles in the programs.  Yes, they expect you to pay for a program only to be forced to go to the internet to read the complete articles about the performance.  “Pointe Magazine” tried this a couple years ago, but the response was so negative that it only lasted a few issues.

Read related stories in the press and see what others are saying. Click here.

 

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