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La La La Human Steps


Malcolm Tay






Esplanade Theatre



Walk On The Wild Side

Watching Amjad felt like an evening at the Night Safari: spying on the curious lives of nocturnal creatures through shafts of moonlight and shadow. They slip in and out of sight between every nook and cranny of their man-made habitat. No matter how many times you read the concisely detailed information panels, the animals remain inscrutable, alluringly mysterious in behaviour and intention. (And admission is bloody expensive.)

In Amjad, the fauna on view are the Montreal-based dancers of La La La Human Steps; their keeper is Édouard Lock, who set up the group in 1980. This full-evening show, which the Moroccan-born choreographer created last year, pays tribute to ballet’s iconic past, particularly the 19th-century classics Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, both set to scores by Tchaikovsky. Lock has no interest in classical homage, however; he takes apart and rearranges familiar fragments, fracturing ballet’s basic geometry and revving them up to punishing speeds – splinters of history flickering by in a restless delirium.

The music, written for piano quartet by composers Gavin Bryars, Blake Hargreaves and David Lang, murmurs with Tchaikovsky’s original themes. Recognisable tunes change keys midway through and glide away as soon as you put your finger on them; rumbling dissonance briefly replaces this strangely beautiful sound world at one point, an eerie interruption. As though inspired by American composer John Cage’s vanguard collaborations with dance-maker Merce Cunningham, the score and choreography, said Lock in the post-show dialogue, were made separately and function apart from each other on stage. Sometimes both worlds coincide; at others the dancers seem to be working against the rhythms of the music.

Given how relentlessly demanding the steps are, it was a marvel to see the intrepid cast of 10 – including guest performer Ginny Gan, on loan from Singapore Dance Theatre – going full throttle. In the duets, which make up a large part of Amjad, partnering becomes a contact sport. There’s something unsettling, even violent, about the curt urgency with which the men shoved and yanked the women; expressions of love turning into contests. Established gender roles, too, get subverted: Michigan-born dancer Dominic Santia rose on pointe in an all-male duet, beating his arms swan-style and twirling in supported pirouettes. Echoing Swan Lake’s attending corps of bird-maidens, the duets are occasionally framed on one side by a group of women angling themselves in profile on the floor.

At 100 minutes long, though, the production can be a challenge to sit through, palling at times when the choreography looked routine. The whiz-bang tricks blur into an indistinguishable jumble after a while. Throughout the action, three disc-shaped screens hovering above the stage project clips of tangled woods (a metaphor for the unconscious?), men and women wrapped in branches, large pearls rotating alone or in strings – one cryptic image replacing the other after a wipe of rippling white silk. And there are five long panels that are lowered and raised near each wing for no apparent reason. These effects may not add up, but the dancers make up for it with their fearless commitment to the moment.

"Watching Amjad felt like an evening at the Night Safari: spying on the curious lives of nocturnal creatures through shafts of moonlight and


Choreographer: Édouard Lock

Composers: Gavin Bryars, Blake Hargreaves, David Lang

Musical director: Njo Kong Kie

Set designer: Armand Vaillancourt

Lighting designer: John Munro

Assistant lighting designer: Marc Tétreault

Costume designer: Vandal

Sound director: Normand-Pierre Bilodeau

Musicians: Elisabeth Giroux (cellist), Njo Kong Kie (pianist), Jill Van Gee (violist), Jennifer Thiessen (violist)

Dancers: Andrea Boardman, Xuan Cheng, Ginny Gan (guest dancer from Singapore Dance Theatre), Talia Evtushenko, Mistaya Hemingway, Zofia Tujaka, Keir Knight, Bernard Martin, Dominic Santia, Jason Shipley-Holmes

More Reviews by
Malcolm Tay

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.