La La La Human Steps at BAM

This past week and weekend, BAM’s Next Wave Festival presented the Montreal-based company La La La Human Steps in Édouard Lock’s Amjad, an evening-length work for nine dancers and three on-stage musicians. Amjad, which is a gender-neutral Arabic name, is a deconstruction of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, but no plot or narrative reveals itself – there is no identifiable Odette, Odile, or Princess Aurora among the women, and no prince among the men. One would have hoped that Lock had at least created solos that revealed the characters’ inner turmoil, but the majority of the work was devoted to duets and ensembles that said more about the dancers’ impeccable technique than Lock’s concept for the ballet.

La La La Human Steps in Amjad, photo by Édouard Lock

The speed of the entire piece is mind-boggling and the dancers’ precise execution of every spin, jump, and gesture is unfathomable. Harsh white spotlights on an otherwise dark stage emphasized the dancers’ sinewy limbs and long lines while never clearly showing their faces, again suggesting that the dancers were not depicting any specific characters from the classics. It’s unfortunate that Lock never allowed the dancers to pause so that the audience (and the dancers) could soak in the moment. He seemed to only choreograph at one speed. The constant rush from one arm-flapping section to another (much more arm-flapping than I remember in any production of Swan Lake that I’ve seen) grew repetitive and predictable. Even the most aggressive of swans takes a breather once in a while.

With the exception of a male duet and a brief section where one man partnered another in pointe shoes, the men were present mainly to spin the women at top speed. The partnering is manipulative, and Lock’s choreography is limited in range. Three screens that appeared rather randomly throughout the ballet showed images of white pearls, blood, white curtains, and thorny forests. The swirling patterns of the pearls and curtains were mesmerizing but didn’t relate to what the dancers were doing. The music, however, was one of the more innovative aspects of the piece. Composed by Gavin Bryars, David Lang, and Blake Hargreaves, the score reworked Tchaikovsky’s music while maintaining some of its most striking sections.

Perhaps Amjad would have been more enjoyable not knowing that it was trying to deconstruct two Romantic ballets. La La La’s dancers are remarkable technicians, but Amjad neither deconstructed nor made a clear statement about the classics. Honestly, the 100-minute ballet could be summarized by watching the 50-second video clip (which features some of the best music from the performance). Once you’ve seen that, you’ve seen the entire piece.

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