AMJAD choreography by Édouard Lock, presented by La La La Human Steps at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East), Tuesday (May 15) at 8 pm. $35-$75. 416-872-2262. Rating: NNNNN
You know those story ballets where there's a castle and a forest? Well, choreographer Édouard Lock doesn't like those boring castle parts.
"Most of the good stuff happens in the forest," he laughs on the phone from Montreal a couple of weeks before La La La Human Steps' latest piece, Amjad, spins into town. "The palace introduces you to this group and that group, the prince, a couple of folkloric dances. It's not where the greatest choreography was created."
Amjad is inspired by two of the biggest ballets in the classical rep: The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. Composers Gavin Bryars and David Lang have reworked excerpts from Tchaikovsky's scores
, there's a film component, and the set suggests lots of creepy creeping vines.
"Of course, that forest is a metaphor for the unconscious, just as the palace represents the social construct," says Lock, one of the most innovative contemporary choreographers around.
It's also a symbol of the things society excludes - a fitting theme in a world that's become increasingly divided over war. The title is an Arabic name (for a man or woman) from the part of Morocco where Lock himself was born.
"During the Romantic era, when these pieces were created, a lot of the artists who chose to put in themes that weren't acceptable to their society tended to make their heroes or anti-heroes into almost animalistic constructs," he says.
"What wasn't acceptable was made inhuman. So in that sense, this is political. Today we share a little bit of the same problems that that society did."
Lock likes the idea of working with shared cultural memories. He was surprised how many people recognize the Tchaikovsky, even if they can't say how they know it.
"They might not know it in the context of the ballet. In one case, someone recognized it from the ring tone on his cellphone," he laughs. "The sharing reaches far, not only in terms of the music but also in the visuals and some of the steps."
That's not to say that audiences should expect traditional balletic pas de deux.
"In our pas de deux, you're not really looking at a guy turning a girl. The speed we generate can't be done that way - it's impossible. You're looking at little tiny shifts of weight that help generate the force. And the partners are more equal than in traditional ballet."
You also could never confuse an audience for a La La La show with one for a classic ballet company. The former tend to look like they could be going to a rock concert.
"I don't know how to explain that," says Lock, whose brooding, Byronic persona has no doubt helped establish the company in the public mind.
"People forget how long we've been around. This is our 27th year. We've gone to a lot of places a lot of times, and we've built up from 50-seat houses in Montreal or Toronto.
"What's kept us fresh is a sense of inviting failure and risk onstage," he says. "If you want to be perfect and do something that's all about, 'Look at me, I'm looking good,' I don't think you'll get that following. People fail on a daily basis, they have problems.
"Not to have that difficulty onstage as well is false. We open ourselves to being vulnerable. Sometimes it works to your advantage, sometimes not."
Additional Audio Interview Clips
On knowing when a piece is done:
On dance muses: