In 'Amjad,' Canadian dance troupe La La La Human Steps merges subconscious memories with the music of 'Swan Lake' and 'Sleeping Beauty.'

Amjad dance 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Amjad dance 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ballet is many things: refined, beautiful, aristocratic, but cool it is not. Even as other dance forms begin to seep into mainstream television and culture, ballet remains tucked away in the "quaint" department. There is no doubt that the art form is important and treasured in our society: Thousands of little girls all over the world don tights and leotards after school and rush to ballet lessons every day. The Nutcracker has become synonymous with Christmastime in America and Europe and there are few people who wouldn't hum along to certain sections from "Waltz of the Flowers." However, pointe shoes and tutus symbolize tradition, things of the past. Ballet just isn't in. This coming week, Canadian dance troupe La La La Human Steps will arrive here, fully prepared to rock our preconceived notions of ballet. Taking part in the Dance at the Mishkan series, Edouard Lock's newest piece, Amjad, will be performed on the company's tour. It is a marriage and contemporary reinvention of two of Tchaikovsky's most famous works, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. No one is better equipped for this task than Canadian choreographer Lock. Born in Morocco and relocated to Canada at a young age, Lock has been creating dance for more than 30 years. During the 1970s, he danced while simultaneously studying film at Montreal's Concordia University. In 1975, he premiered his first choreographic work, Temps Vole, which was enthusiastically reviewed. Shortly after, Lock was invited to present work at The Kitchen in New York City. Lock went on to established La La La Human Steps in 1980. Since then, Lock has stayed firmly balanced on the cutting edge of dance. The company has performed all over world, bringing his dynamic choreography to thousands of audiences. Lock has created works for Het Nationale Ballet of Holland and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. The company has enjoyed premiers of his work at Saitama Arts Center in Japan, State Opera in Prague and Theatre De La Ville in Paris. Lock has a knack for pushing the envelope. More than 20 years ago, he choreographed Human Sex, perhaps one of the most talked about and provocative dance pieces in history. In Human Sex, Lock's muse and long time star dancer, Louise Lecavalier, was seen in lingerie and kneepads, leaping, twirling and convulsing to minimalist live music. Lock's ferocious movement won him notice inside and out of the dance world. In 1989, David Bowie invited Lock to be the artistic director for his world tour, in which Bowie executed Lock's choreography alongside Lecavalier. LOCK'S CINEMATIC eye has been an invaluable asset during his career. Long before dance films became popular again, Lock drew on his earlier training to capture his work on tape. In addition, many of his works have been multidisciplinary, involving avant-garde projections, which accompanied his dances on stage. In Enfante, C'est Destroy, created in 1991, a larger-than-life projection of Lecavalier floated above the live dancers. "There are so many similarities between film and dance," Lock explained in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. "Close-ups and framing allow you to get rid of what you don't want to be looking at. The editing process of getting any film across is a huge part of how we naturally respond to the world." Currently, Lock is known as one of the leaders of the new cross-genre art form of dance films. Last year, a movie version of the staged piece Amelia was shown and praised at various film festivals, including Tel Aviv's VDance International Dance Film Festival. Part of being a visionary is going against the grain. As the trend in modern and contemporary dance leans further and further toward the unstructured, Lock has chosen to turn his attentions toward a more classical vocabulary of movement. In his early pieces, Lock's dancers flailed and dived, crashed into each other. In his more recent pieces, the choreography has maintained its speed and precision while the movements have become more refined and balletic. In Amelia, La La La's technically flawless ladies pirouetted in pointe shoes to deconstructed tunes by Lou Reed. Amjad is an even deeper venture into the world of ballet. Using the familiar melodies and moments from Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, Lock found a language with which he created a fluid, collage of images. "I didn't want to create a narrative, which is why I chose two ballets," he said. He expressed an interest in investigating the audience's subconscious associations with Tchaikovsky's music. "I like to work with memories,' he went on. "The memories the audience carries into the theater with them. We did that in Amelia with Lou Reed. In terms of Amjad, people have very clear references to these two ballets. Dance is not a popular art form, so it is rare that that happens. Even if they have never seen the ballets, they know parts of the music or have visual references." Music was an integral part of both the live production and the creation process of Amjad. A quartet of piano, cello and two violins joins the dancers on the stage. "One important aspect was the music. I began the creation process by listening to the music. I like these two ballets very much," said Lock. "There were a lot of musicians involved that were dealing with Tchaikovsky's work, which is very well-known." Two of the musicians are David Lang and Gavin Breyers, who were called on by Lock to offer new arrangements to the two masterpieces. Naturally, taking apart Tchaikovsky's respected and revered work was a touchy task. "Both felt confident enough to do it. The whole point was not to denature the music. It was not being autopsied. It was more of a homage to those two works." Tchaikovsky has special significance for Lock. In 1987, he created a ballet for Het Nationale Ballet in Holland to music by the composer. It was the first time Lock had choreographed for dancers in pointe shoes and would prove to be a life changing experience. It was the beginning of a meeting of worlds for Lock and perhaps the event which planted the seeds of inspiration for Amjad. He said, "There used to be a big difference between classical and contemporary dance. They didn't speak to each other. Over the years that has changed a lot. A contemporary choreographer has just been appointed the artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet. A lot of dancers are transitioning. The two styles have started to come together more." In modern times, trends change very quickly. Audiences that would have bought tickets to the opera 50 years ago now see Mamma Mia. A new genre of music emerges every day. Disney has taken over Broadway. With all this shifting and renewing, perhaps the only hope for traditional art forms to stay on the main stage is to evolve. And in the case of ballet, there are no better hands to be in than that of Edouard Lock and the lovely La La La Human Steps cast. Amjad at Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center January 12, 13 and 14 at 9 p.m., tickets: NIS 149 to NIS 199 For tickets: (03) 692-7777, www.israel-opera.co.il