Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Swans and roses

More cultural events as I went recently to see Amjad by Montreal dance company, La La La Human Steps. This modern ballet by Edouard Lock is in part based on classical ballets, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, which are, he suggests, part of our collective memory. I'd question how much, myself, since I have met many people who regard watching ballet as the most outré of pastimes and wouldn't dream of giving it five minutes of their time, even on television. But there are those who are reasonably ballet-literate, and they are, I guess, Amjad's intended audience. Certainly, the applause at the end was pretty rapturous, so I imagine the Sadler's Wells audience thought they had picked up the references.

I found myself at times wondering of there was more going on than I had realised, but a quick trawl through the reviews shows that I seem to be in accord with the critics. Lock expects us to recognise elements of the two ballets – though there was more swan than Aurora – both in dance and music, but story and movement are deconstructed and fragmentary, the pas de deux full of conflict rather than harmony. The delicate wafting arms of the swans become frenzied and angular flapping, and we were reminded that, for a realistic representation of a swan, a man is better. A prince en pointe, though, looked constrained and "tight" beside the more graceful elasticity of his partner. Lighting which made frequent use of alternating spots added to the fragmentation of movement and story.

Gavin Bryar's score reworks themes from both to create a work in its own right, powerful and lyrical. The musicians are worthy of particular note – playing for super-fast dance must be exacting but interpretation lost nothing to choreographical demands. I like least the use of video screens, which for me seemed to add little beyond reinforcement of references to the geometry of classical ballet (rings of pearls for circles of swans?) and fairy tales, where the thicket of briars has not merely surrounded the castle but physically trapped the princess (or prince). The dancers are individualised only by their physical differences, but their movement is always focused and their speed at times staggering. It's a long performance, for dancers as well as for audience, and the latter might benefit from both a little more elucidation and a bit less video, but I would nonetheless recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to see it. Indeed, I'd like to see it again myself (the UK tour takes in several more venues) having re-watched Sleeping Beauty first.

If you are interested you can see a clip of them in action, in an earlier work.

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