Sunday, January 22, 2012

Superhuman Steps

Richard and I played hooky from PuSh last night in order to attend DanceHouse's presentation of La La La Human Steps at the Centre on Homer Street. "New Work" (that is, in fact, the title of the piece), by La La La's Artistic Director and Choreographer, Édouard Lock, is set to updated scores of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Glück's Orpheus and Eurydice--by Gavin Bryars and Blake Hargreaves, respectively--and features a pianist, violinist, cellist, and saxophonist performing live on stage alongside the dancers (hence Vancouver New Music coming on board as a co-presenter of this piece).

New work, but trademark Lock steps: tight, precise, lightening quick, and with the graceful muscularity we have come to expect from La La La's women dancers, in particular, who are almost always en pointe, and whose quarter, half, and full pirouettes during partnering were dizzying. Those turns, like the rapidly fluttering arm extensions and movements of all the dancers, were given an added cinematic quality--akin to the early stop-motion experiments of an Eadweard Muybridge, for example--by the dramatic lighting for the piece, which consisted almost entirely of overhead follow-spots, and which, in addition to always keeping the dancers half in shadow, had the effect of creating momentary visual traces of their impossibly fast movements. If it is often said that dancers sculpt air, then this is one occasion where I can say that I actually saw how that happens.

One final element of the piece is the inclusion of a series of black and white filmed portraits of several of La La La's female dancers. These descend from the rafters at select moments in the work, and consist of extended close-ups of face and torso, both in the sitters' current glowing youthfulness and--via make-up and wigs--in terms of what they might look like in old age. Were these meant to be Dido and Eurydice, caught between youthful passion and bitter regret? I hesitate to make direct narrative and thematic connections in Lock's work, but whatever their meaning they were as compelling to watch as the dance itself.


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