Edouard Lock of La La La Human Steps draws on the classics for Amjad, but don’t expect any restraint.
Edouard Lock, the iconic Canadian choreographer who heads La La La Human Steps, is known for many things: his speedy, dangerous movement; his use of multimedia technology; and his pop and punk sensibilities. This is, after all, the Montreal artist who has directed concerts for David Bowie and Frank Zappa. What his name is most certainly not associated with, however, are the conventions of classical ballet. So it's a departure for Lock to cite as his inspiration for Amjad , his newest work, two of the ballet world's most ubiquitous tales: The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake .
The Moroccan-born dancemaker sets Amjad –which hits the Queen Elizabeth Theatre next Thursday to Saturday (June 14 to 16)–amid the two classics' realms: a forest and a palace. As Lock explains on the line from his Montreal studio, he isn't interested so much in the ballets' narratives as in the period they represent.
"The palace represents social structure, while the forest is the deconstruction of those structures," Lock explains. "The Romantic era was a very judgmental society, very structured and rigid. Anything out of the norm–there was no room for it in society. Things that were unaccepted were animalized so that they could exist without judgment. And yet it [the Romantic era] was very extravagant, visually attractive, especially with references to the Orient."
But if The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake evoke images of tutus and restraint, think again. In Amjad , Lock dresses his female dancers in black bustiers and tights, while the men wear Armani-style suits. Besides sexing up his pirouettes, Lock's real interest is in smashing classical-ballet stereotypes. He's long been interested in the illusion of body shape and in ways to rework ballet's rigid structure.
The nine dancers in Amjad wear pointe shoes. But while the slippers give ballet dancers an air of ethereality, weightlessness, and fragility, Lock does away with such notions.
"Ballet idealizes lines, makes the body linear; I want to remind people of illusion, then break it up so it's less pure," he says. "The use of pointe is not because I believe in an idealized shape but because I want to break that up."
Lock also revamps choreographic phrases from Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty , deconstructing and reconstructing them to appeal to 21st-century audiences.
With a background in literature and a penchant for film, Lock took his first dance class in 1971 at Montreal's Sir George Williams University. In 1980 he started his own company, which quickly became known for its hard-core aesthetic, edgy use of cinema, live and loud rock music, and precise motions performed in overdrive. For nearly two decades the company was known as much for its stylish movement as it was for star dancer Louise Lecavalier, a fearless, platinum-blond dynamo who literally threw herself into Lock's work, mastering the company's signature and spectacular barrel roll. She left the company in 1999, after 18 years, but La La La maintains an impressive roster of dancers who are as technically sharp as they are athletically charged. Andrea Boardman joined after spending 10 years as a principal dancer with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Xuan Cheng danced the lead role in Swan Lake during her time with China's Guangzhou Ballet. Mistaya Hemingway has performed several George Balanchine ballets.
And Lock himself isn't a complete stranger to the classical idiom. He studied at the school of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, was commissioned to make a piece for the Dutch National Ballet, and has used pointe work in some of his own creations, like Salt and Amelia . But he has never before made direct references to such famous, if overexposed, story ballets.
As much as he was intrigued by The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake 's settings, he was also drawn to their Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky scores.
"These two pieces have made their way into our consciousness in a very visceral fashion," Lock says. "Most of the musical passages are known by everybody; even if they haven't seen the ballets, they know the music."
Just as he rethought the ballets' physical vocabulary, Lock enlisted composers David Lang, Gavin Bryars, and Blake Hargreaves to put a new spin on the music, which is played live by two violists, a pianist, and a cellist.
"Gavin wanted not to denature the music but to work with it with respect," Lock explains. "He didn't want to lessen it. He wanted a signature Gavin Bryars work but one that was in harmony and accord with the original aims of the music."
In Amjad –which takes its title from a unisex proper name in Muslim countries–Lock also includes his trademark use of film projected on multiple screens above the dancers.
"There are a series of visual layers not directly related to what's happening on-stage," he says. "They're like ghosts. They bend people's perception."
And twisting dance fans' perceptions is what Lock is all about.