Amjad, by the Canadian company La La La Human Steps, makes high-speed ballet a very slow experience. Choreographer Edouard Lock takes a fractured view of Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, with classical steps performed at flickering double speed. Essentially, that's it. Lock adds complex lighting, film sequences and men on pointe, but Amjad is one basic idea stretched over a whole evening. Performed without an interval, it becomes a stamina test.
Lock is an interdisciplinary choreographer, working with Frank Zappa and David Bowie as well as the Paris Opéra Ballet. La La La Human Steps was founded in 1980. In its early years, the company's image was dominated by Louise Lecavalier, a wild-haired blonde who would hurl herself fearlessly through space. Returning to the UK after an eight-year gap, the company for Amjad is sleeker.
The choreography uses academic steps, with some twists, danced by men in suits and women in high-cut corset leotards. Lock says that Amjad is about audience memory – everybody recognises something from Swan Lake. In his version, the stories are there only if the audience remembers them. Though ballerinas swap places, in an echo of the good and wicked swans, there's little contrast in the material.
The music is still Tchaikovsky, reworked for piano by UK composer Gavin Bryars. These are variations on the original music's themes; phrases shift from key to key, recognisable tunes sliding away as you listen. At one point, it sounds as though the cygnets are invading Bryars's version of a Sleeping Beauty duet.
They do dance very, very fast. Xuan Cheng is quick but still lucid, never losing her porcelain cool. Others are sometimes hectic, though they never lose focus. There's little space for expansiveness, for individual phrasing. Though the women, especially, become recognisable personalities, the effect is still of dancing that is somehow anonymous.
Lock keeps returning to the same basic fragments, avoiding the most distinctive moments of the traditional choreography. It's generic ballet, even at double speed. Lock does add his own detail. The beating swan wings now have flapping wrists, with fidgety gestures thrown in between beats. Men and women sink to the floor, reclining on their sides, one knee bent. The speed makes partnering much more aggressive, support turning into pushing and shoving.
Above the dancers, circular screens show film clips: close-ups of beads, branches, men and women wrapped up in bark. Is Lock commenting on fairy stories, or providing a pretty backdrop? As with the steps, the imagery is both vague and repetitive.
John Munro's lighting design is jittery, with dancers spotlit from one side, then the other. The idea is to catch the broken quality of memory, concentration jumping from moment to moment. As a whole, Lock's rewrite often looks like a jumpy film, stuck in a loop.
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