New Work by Édouard Lock – La La La Human Steps: Sadler’s Wells, 29 September 2011

I’ve looked at lights from both sides now

Please! Just a few seconds rest. A rare picture of a La La La Human Step not moving.

Renowned for their speed of movement Montreal’s La La La La Human Steps brought more than a touch of authority to the UK premiere of Édouard Lock’s unfathomably titled New Work by Édouard Lock.

Let’s get the hype out the way. It’s true – the dancers’ speed is absolutely incredible. They pirouette as fast as ice skaters and their intricate hand-chopping gestures could slice a cucumber in two seconds flat. It’s also relentless – an hour and half with no interval; the fitness, strength and mental precision required of the dancers is breathtaking. Believe the hype.

They may be Human Steps but this was definitely a work about women. Regularly trapped in the males rough embraces the women escape only to return willingly to their limbed prisons and suffer repeated psychological torments – Lock’s choreography is too precise to resort to crass simulations of domestic violence. They only achieve any sort of power when perched solo on pointe in their black basques in a sexually idealised vision of a Black Swan dominatrix.

The stage was dotted by a constant flux of spotlights from which the dancers escaped from and ran to. Lit directly from above, features were difficult to make out; the abandoned individuality leaving an animalistic mosquito buzz of action as the only means of communication. It also meant the arms left beautiful visual traces in the air as they moved, reminiscent of a sparkler on Bonfire Night.

A pair of hyper-real black and white film projections of a young and an old woman slid down from time to time bringing a welcome calm to offset the frenetic dancing. With their minimal but powerfully simple gestures, the sorrow of ageing and the ignorance of youth were thrown into the ring as further burdens on a woman’s lot. The final image of the young dancer in a syncopated Kāli solo was gorgeous.

Gavin Bryars and Blake Hargeaves’ music, performed on-stage by an excellent quartet, deconstructs Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice. The result has an enjoyably improbable Baroque Tango feel, a cold passion that enhances the choreography but which stands on its own merits. The pre-recorded organ and electric guitar parts were mighty effusive too.

New Work ends with a relatively mellow duet; the dancers’ faces are fully revealed and, after an emotionally bumpy beginning where every suggestion of tenderness is quickly snuffed out, a quiet physical agreement is tentatively reached.

An exceptional performance.

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