mon 22/09/2014

La La La Human Steps, New Work, Sadler's Wells | Dance reviews, news & interviews

La La La Human Steps, New Work, Sadler's Wells

Canadian troupe slash through the dark with a speed-limit-breaking piece of ballet

Lock-down: it's all about impact, whiplash aggression and electric awarenessImages Edouard Lock

The first half-hour of Edouard Lock’s nameless new piece is some of the most thrilling dance imaginable; dynamic, mercurial, as men and women convulsed with frenzy fight each other in stark spotlights in the dark. They’re dressed in black, so that each flail, each clash, each twitch of a pink pointe shoe trails an outline of blinding light and throws a flashing black shadow. Mile-a-minute in the dark, it’s terrifying.

Even more so given that the music being churned through some particularly emulsifying sound system from the small live band behind is neatly based on samples of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas - ironically, I suppose - the happy bits, the choruses about banishing care, or dancing into the hills and glades. Nothing could be further from the demeanour of the thrashing creatures scuttling from light to light, refusing to join, refusing to agree.

High panels of slatted wood rise and fall at the side, elegant but inscrutable to me. Large video screens show a pair of women, almost immobile in close-up - one young woman, one older one with a worldweary mouth, both looking uncomfortable, as if there were some hidden animosity between them.

La La La Human Steps New WorkWhatever their problem is, it’s less interesting than what’s going on below their gigantic images, as wired ballet-women stalk the floor, stabbing it with their pointes, spinning at furious speed, lashing their legs out in aikido precision while the men warily jump in to steady them. It looks devilishly hard to do, a roaring scion of the Forsythe school, but with elements of street dance in its fiercely quick stops and starts.

When spotlights switch places, or turn on and off, the girls especially seem driven to keep up - one of them prowls furtively in the centre light, as if ready to assault any of the others who come her way. The other girls swiftly drape themselves on the floor, deceptively resembling nymphs in some gentle rococo pastoral. And then, wham, lights move and the chase begins again.

The grip of momentum holds as long as one is absorbed by the fact of the physicality of the dancing, its clipped, snapped dialect which never mumbles. Contrary to ballet's natural fashion, none of these creatures, the women anyway, needs or seeks comfort or complementariness, certainly not with the five men who are in imminent danger of being de-balled at almost every turn. Yet the rigour in the choreography is such that the men manage to inject little decisive bobs and feints within their extremely challenging partnering, and I like seeing that killer detail being chiselled out. This is a real language here: snap, crackle, explode.

La La La Human Steps New WorkLock (who founded La La La Human Steps 31 years ago) notionally themes his creation on two Greek stories of frustrated love, Dido and Aeneas and Orpheus and Eurydice, with Gavin Bryars and Blake Hargreaves supplying a freely theatrical score based on piano, viola, clarinet and cello sampling Purcell and Gluck’s operas, while throwing in via the mixing deck some Gothic Phantom of the Opera-style howls and organ echoes. It’s good fun, especially when the music changes down several gears to calmer tempi while the dancers totally ignore the fact.

So you chew over the story relevance, jettison it, and return your attention to the unflagging dancers, but the spell inevitably weakens over the 90 minutes, as it seems more and more inevitable that this top-speed quarrel between everybody will never end in resolution. Its climactic duet between a still extremely upset woman twisting and turning in one of the black-clad chaps’ grip is a turbo-charged echo (I take it) of Eurydice trying to catch Orpheus’s gaze, but by then this roller-coaster ride had tired me out.

I should like to have been gasping at the work’s speed, then kicked in the solar plexus by a sudden blast of emotion, and sent home wanting more (rather than less). But I’d go back to watch it again, at least for half an hour, because to ride in such a fast and specifically tuned machine in ballet these days is rarer than we should be comfortable about.

  • La La La Human Steps are at Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, till Saturday
I like seeing that killer detail being chiselled out. This is a real language here: snap, crackle, explode

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