Review: La La La Human Steps in New Work by Edouard Lock at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 28 Sep - 1 Oct 2011
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Sunday 2 October 2011

La La La Human Steps, New Work by Edouard Lock, 28 Sep - 1 Oct. Sadler's Wells

Reviewed: 29 September 2011

The excitement of the chase, the speed of the sprint and the tedium of the marathon are all bound up in this New Work by Édouard Lock, so loosely entitled because his concept for the piece is said to deconstruct the greatest tragic operas of the 17th and 18th Centuries (Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice) and, understandably, Lock felt it inappropriate to overlay his own title over works of such immensity. Snatches of the score, jointly composed by Gavin Bryars and Blake Hargreaves, brought flavours of Dido and Orpheus but within a framework that frequently reminded me of the kind of work that Michael Nyman would create. A live band played in the dark, the lights illuminating their scores visible like little torches at the back of the stage.

It is impossible not to marvel at the smooth speed and sculpted muscularity of these amazing dancers, the six women in particular, but even their remarkable fluency and skill begins to pall as the unbroken 90 minutes drifted by. I was ready for it to come to an end after the hour mark.

The work was made to seem longer by the anonymity of its performers, caused not merely by resisting the identification of characters or the creation of personality but more especially through a lighting design, which made recognition of any dancers often impossible. Very occasional and sudden changes of lighting would bring them harshly out of the twilight setting but for the most part they performed in and out of pools of soft light, dancing in the shadows or bathed in a grey-blue glaze. Their arresting athleticism and strength needed to move onto a stage where the audience could identify with each performer and both the lighting and the lightning speed made this a difficult task.

It was impossible to keep this speed up for 90 minutes and each section of dance was broken up, most frequently by the projection of film onto two large side-by-side panels. In the main, this consisted of one of the dancers (certainly Zofia Tujaka and also, I think, Alejandra Salamanca Lopez) face-on to the camera, wearing a formal white shirt, alongside a much older woman: at first, I thought, this was a similar device to Lock’s ‘2’, in which film of his former muse, Louise Lecavalier, was subjected to a process that aged her into a nonogenerian. Apart from the fact that the filmed women did very little – an age would pass until one ran her fingers through her hair or smiled enigmatically – and that this slowness was the polar opposite of the dancers’ vitality in the live performance, there seemed to be no point to it. The black & white images of the women randomly gave way to a kind of nondescript kaleidoscopic, floral pattern and – towards the end – one of them was filmed in the trademark, high-cut La La La leotards performing trademark Lock steps en pointe in a process which superimposed one image over another. Other than providing some respite for the dancers on stage and continuing Lock’s fascination with mixing film and live performance (all of the company action photographs in the programme were taken by Lock himself) the unfathomable randomness of the film wasted time and detracted from the bouts of brilliant performance.

Mostly in the background was a gang of brooding, silent, no-holds-barred, tough guys – often wearing dark suits – with Jason Shipley-Holmes as the man least likely to be argued with. They partnered and manipulated the women into vicious pirouettes that appeared to be drilling through the floor and daring acrobatic lifts. Several dance sequences, including an excellent male duet, left a marked impression but it would have been all the more stunning without the dragging, numbing effect of the screenings in-between.

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