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 Post subject: La La La Human Steps
PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 8:40 am 
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La La La Human Steps - ‘Amjad’
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK; February 5, 2008


Memories, says choreographer Edouard Lock, “always create an interesting tension in a theatre.” “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty” are two ballets that pretty much everyone thinks they know something about, and has some sort of association or recollection of, even if they don’t really know where those memories originate. It is just those relationships that Lock draws on in “Amjad”. But rather than trying to retell or reimagine the well-known stories, he has instead focused on the themes and imagery within the works.

Lock is clearly drawn to the idea of the forest as an allegory of the unconscious, perhaps even of dreams. Indeed, the shadowy side of memory is evident throughout, the whole work seemingly set in some dark world where dream and reality are all mixed up. Armand Vaillancourt’s set helps the mood along with panels suggesting trees and other images from the ballets that appear and just as quickly disappear. Also periodically, three discs descend from above on to which close ups of beads or pearls, branches, leaves, and brilliant red petals contrasted with virginal white sheets are projected. The meaning is never explicit but they are hugely suggestive of links to the ballets.

Lock’s nine dancers carry the work off supremely. His high-voltage choreography often calls for electrifyingly fast pirouettes, sharp pointe work or changes of direction that are all delivered perfectly, with amazing precision and quite fearlessly. Many of the duets in particular were very athletic and physical, at times even downright sexy, as the dancers pushed and pulled rather than simply supported each other.

‘Amjad’ is an Arabic term that can mean either a man or a woman. At first, Lock seems to give his dancers clearly defined roles as we identify a Prince chasing his swan or hunting for his Beauty. But just like memories, things soon begin to blur, as the men start to take on swan-like movements, which for Lock includes a sharp flapping of the wrists alongside the expected arms. He even throws in a man on pointe, doing exactly the same steps as the women. And so clean, precise and superbly does Dominic Santia do it that it seems perfectly natural. In fact, although the choreography doesn’t allow for characters as such, Lock’s dancers all managed to convey their own personality and style. Best of all was Xuan Cheng, who was always especially quick and sharp, with every movement perfectly and cleanly executed.

The dark and almost mysterious mood is further enhanced by the costumes and John Munro’s superb lighting. Lock has the men in dark suits, and the women in sleek, high cut black leotards and black tights. The dancers are often starkly lit by just one or two white lights, which change sharply reflecting the crispness of the choreography. Munro achieves an almost black and white cinematic feel as we flit from one flashback to another, as if we were in some memory that still had to be coloured in.

Gavin Bryars’ brilliant reworking of the music from the two ballets for piano, cello and two violins, and played live on stage, simply added to the overall effect. Just like the choreography and just like memories, the familiar tunes come and go, sliding in and out and even occasionally seemingly getting mixed up with each other.

“Amjad” is not a remaking, a retelling or even really a reimagining of the famous works on which it is draws. In it, Lock has not only succeeded in mixing the classical and the modern, he has retained the essence of the ideas of the ballets on which it is based while moving far enough away that we see it as something different. Perhaps in deconstructing them in this way, he has got nearer to true essence of the original works than many who have gone before. Yet it never reaches the point of complete abstraction, and anyone with even a passing knowledge of “Swan Lake” or “The Sleeping Beauty” will have their memories awakened, it is not necessary to have any knowledge of them to enjoy Lock’s creation. At 100 minutes with no interval it is long, and themes and ideas do recur in the choreography, but it never gets overly repetitive and the performance sped by. So much so, I could quite happily have sat through it all again.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2008 5:55 pm 
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Location: Canada
"Amjad"
February 13, 2007
La La La Human Steps
Edinburgh Festival Theatre

For his latest La La La Human Steps production, Edouard Lock has taken the barebones themes of two classic ballets, nine outstanding dancers, and a quartet of musicians, and come up with the dynamic, fascinating, but not entirely satisfying "Amjad". Both Lock and the composers Gavin Bryars, David Lang and Blake Hargreaves have started with the choreographic and musical themes of "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty", but moved beyond the familiar to create an entirely unique combination of music, video and dance. There is just enough of the familiar to remind the audience of the inspiration, but what is on stage is all La La La Human Steps.

The ballet begins with a brief video interlude on three suspended screens stage front, a quartet of musicians slowing becoming visible in the dark shadows behind. The opening and dominant theme in "Amjad" is that of "Swan Lake", but the classic melodies are reworked to be darker and deeper. Lock's dancers are dressed in Vandal's black creations, suits for them 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 focus squarely on the dance.

And what a company of dancers Lock has gathered: four men and five women with 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 lithe Dominic Santia. In the 1 hr and 45 minutes of un-interrupted dance, 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.

Unfortunately, whilst Lock's dancers never fail him, his lack of choreographic editing does. It's not that the "Amjad" is not compelling – quite the opposite – but there's no human way to keep focused for almost two hours. Lock also deals with a limited range of choreographic motifs, which he plays with in infinite variety. An infinite variety that eventually becomes more repetitive than fascinating. 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. The fast pace of the steps makes the choreography stunning as dancers beat their feet with picture perfect precision or spin across the stage like a top out of control. However, Lock seems to have only one speed – hectic, thus the choreography to the slower musical sections appears forced. His dancers have such gorgeous lines that you wish he'd allowed them to pause a moment to show them off. When he did take half a minute, as in the pas de deux with Tujaka and Santia both on pointe, it was breathtaking. Unlike other instances of men on pointe, this was done with complete seriousness. What resulted was a deeply moving, heartfelt pas de deux. Santia, chest bare and every sinew accented by the angular lighting, moves with completely fluency, almost more feminine that his white-dressed partner. This reversal of roles is furthered by the appearance of another man, so that Santia alternates his pas de deux partner.

In other 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 around 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, (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've had the gall to spend three pages on their own programs while only printing 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.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 11, 2008 8:10 pm 
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The LA Times review of La La La Human Steps's Amjad:


Quote:
La La La Human Steps
Mark Swed, LA Times

But we supposedly dream in black and white, and with dreams you can do anything you want. So "Amjad" is long, basically formless and, for all its variety, repetitious. If an interesting step or arm movement whizzed by too fast, there was always a second and a third and a fourth iteration. Much the same could be said of the music.

I liked that. Attention-grabbing stunts became over time a kind of new tradition, and as the Tchaikovsky arrangements began to lose their novelty, the score seemed to take on an impressive seriousness. "Amjad" has to be long. A quick hit on YouTube makes it look cute. A good sit in the theater is a better way to overcome a refusal of history.
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 11, 2008 8:13 pm 
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Location: Santa Barbara, CA USA
I saw LLLHS dance Amjad at Santa Barbara's newest theater, the Granada this past Tuesday. It was made all the more interesting having just seen two Swan Lake productions in the last week.

The dancers and musicians are very impressive, but I wished the choreography had more than its 1 frantic speed. The lighting was also very impressive, simulating at times the feel of an old black-and-white movie, with lights on one side turning off while lights on the other side of the stage turning on. It looked like a sudden cut in a movie.

--Andre


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