La La La Human Steps

April 4, 2008

La La La Human Steps

UCLA’s Royce Hall, Los Angeles, CA

April 4–5, 2008

Reviewed by Victoria Looseleaf

Talk about deconstruction! Sure, there have been countless productions of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, but none, it seems, can hold a feather to Édouard Lock’s uber-inventive Amjad (an Arabic name for a man or woman). In its U.S. premiere, the 100-minute opus was a showcase not only for Lock’s exquisite and hard-working Montreal-based troupe, but for the onstage piano quartet performing the radically reworked Tchaikovsky scores composed by Gavin Bryars, Pulitzer-Prize winner David Lang, and Blake Hargreaves.  

    Here were the beloved themes and melodies from the 19th-century classics, but heard as if filtered through a sonic kaleidoscope. So, too, was the dancing a wondrously warped movement vocabulary: Lock’s nine performers, tossing off high-velocity ballet steps and phrases (with five women on pointe), oozed through space like quicksilver. In this quasi-dream state a series of duets, trios, and group unisons unfolded at a furious pace, the mostly black-clad performers (sexy corset-like leotards for the women, suits for the men, when not bare-chested), bathed in John Munro’s luminous pools of rapidly changing light.

    A triumph of ferocious will, this extreme ballet bristled with strange, ambiguous pairings amid agitated swans forever flicking wrists and arms. Hovering above the fray were three circular screens that periodically descended with projected imagery—a forest, strings of pearls, mussy virginal white sheets. A nod to fairy tales and the unconscious, these hypnotic visuals further enhanced Lock’s renegade theatricality.

    Among the brilliant dancers, Zofia Tujaka, wearing white, made for a regal, mysterious swan, her head frozen during electrifyingly tiny bourrees, her pas de deux with Dominic Santia (also on pointe), riveted with surprisingly meditative gestures. Also breathtaking: Xuan Cheng and Keir Knight in angular lunges, their quivering bodies fused one moment, thrashed apart the next.   

    As the remixed music shuffled in iPod mode, with the musicians emerging from the back of the stage at one point, the dancers maintained a dazzling stamina, pushing their fiendishly difficult, if often repetitious, steps to the brink. But it is this brink that all great choreographers aspire to, and in the process, take those of us who are willing, along for a satisfyingly heady ride.         


(Photo courtesy UCLA Live)