Dance review: La La La Human Steps with U.S. debut of ‘New Work’
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“Dancing in the dark” would make an impeccable subtitle for Édouard Lock’s provocative “New Work,” which had its U.S. debut at the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Thursday night.
The ultra-athletic artists of Lock’s company, La La La Human Steps, whirled, kicked and wriggled at highest velocity. This iconoclastic style has brought both celebrity and notoriety to the Montreal choreographer. In “New Work,” Lock has gone one step further, designing a nearly dark lighting scheme, brightened only by precisely angled overhead and side spotlights. The dancers’ faces and bodies were obscured, allowing Lock to sculpt a fragmented stage of blurred bodies. It’s an ironic twist that in cloaking his repetitive and gestural ballet language, Lock takes it to a more satisfying and nuanced level.
For more than 30 years, Lock has been re-writing the rules of contemporary dance and forcing audiences to revise how they see and register movement.
In “New Work,” the viewer was best served by looking at the bodies’ wavering outlines, the women in strapless black leotards and tights, the men in black suits (though sometimes shirtless; costumes by Liz Vandal). Observe the strobe-like effect created by the ferociously waving arms and flexed hands, or the reflections that bounced off the ballerinas’ skin and pink toe shoes. Notice the exaggerated contours of sinewy muscles.
But it was not purely design-heavy tableaux. Lock sprinkled suggestive shards of love-sick narrative from Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” and Christoph Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice.” The extraordinarily quick and strong Talia Evtushenko struck angry and despairing poses, alternately kissing and pummeling her partner, then drawing in her arms to spin like an ice skater. The leggy Mi Deng was supported through deeply leaning arabesques, by partners who rarely revealed themselves. Four onstage musicians, meanwhile, gave gorgeous lilt to composer Gavin Bryars’ stately chamber melodies, a sonic torch that pierced the chaos and guided us to the end. Lock’s film sequences, however, which paired women young and old, were stagey and pretentious.
At 85 minutes, “New Work” was just long enough; Lock’s style still contains its own constraints. Crown the 11 dancers as heroes, though, for selflessly executing technical marvels that were difficult to fully observe. The ancients would have been admiring.
-- Laura Bleiberg