The diminutive but muscular dancer tenses her body. Then, arms windmilling and white-blond hair flying, Louise Lecavalier spins horizontally, like a propeller on a motorboat engine. The startling feat is typical of the outrageous body language of the Montreal-based contemporary dance troupe La La La Human Steps. Onstage, its dancers hurl themselves onto the floor with punishing abandon. Women nonchalantly hoist men aloft. Couples perform duets that seem to be as much about flying apart as coming together. Wildly successful in Canada and abroad, the company has collaborated with British rock star David Bowie, and its current production, New Demons, has been seen by more than 250,000 people on four continents. Critics have resorted to verbal acrobatics in their efforts to describe them. Chris Roberts of London’s trend-setting Melody Maker magazine has called them “the vicious swan in the stagnant duck pond of Eighties pop culture.”
Under the leadership of its 35-year-old Montreal-based founder and choreographer Edouard Lock, La La La Human Steps exploded onto the international dance scene with its 1985 production, Human Sex. Britain’s Bowie, who has long explored the charged territory of androgyny in his own work, saw a video of the gender-bending Canadian troupe and proclaimed them “the finest dance company of the Eighties.” In 1988, he invited La La La to dance with him while he performed his song Look Back in Anger at a London charity gala. The performance was later repeated for Wrap Around the World, a video created in honor of the Seoul Summer Olympics, which was broadcast simultaneously in several countries, including Japan and Italy.
This week, the company returns to Canada from a two-year world tour with New Demons, an 85-minute work that premiered two years ago in Montreal. The show will open in Toronto on Nov. 1, and later in the month it will travel to
Vancouver and Quebec City before returning to Montreal in December. The creation, which combines film and video projections and monologues with dance, has no story line or dominant theme; it is primarily a celebration of movement. And while it resembles Human Sex, it has a more refined and polished mood.
To a great extent, the differences between the two works are in the music: while Human Sex had an edgy, Western rock score, New Demons interweaves sinuous Eastern devotional music with raunchy guitar solos. Lock commissioned the score, which features segments with titles such as Bengalis from Outer Space, from the London-based West India Company, a band specializing in the fusion of Asian music and rock. Priya Khajuria, a Montreal-based singer of East Indian descent, and Montreal guitarist Sylvain Provost, share the stage with La La La’s four dancers—Lecavalier, Francine Liboiron, Marc Beland and Donald Weikert. As in the company’s earlier shows, vigorous dance segments alternate with whimsical bits of theatre presented by Lock himself. In one, the slender, almost birdlike choreographer talks to the audience while lying on a bed of spikes; in another, he attaches pulse monitors to a few spectators, and the dancers begin moving in time to an amplified heartbeat that pounds through the theatre.
Speaking by telephone from Leuven, Belgium, the final European stop on the New Demons tour, Lock said last week that he would rather let people formulate their own
responses to his work than attempt to explain its meaning to them. But he added that he believes an artist’s function is “to break habits, to force people to let go of preconceived ideas.”
Born in Morocco to Spanish parents and raised in Montreal, Lock studied film at Montreal’s Concordia University before founding Lock Danseurs Inc.—which later became La La La—in 1980. Two years later, the Montreal-based Lecavalier was, she says, feeling “disappointed with modern dance” and contemplating a move to New York City when she saw a performance by Lock’s group. She now recalls feeling that Lock had something many of his contemporaries lacked—an ability to communicate forcefully with an audience—and she joined his company in 1982.
From the outset, Lock’s approach to dance has been convention-shattering. The choreographer says that he has never believed that men should do all of the lifting in dance. “I tend to feel that women are very powerful,” said Lock. “It just doesn’t strike me as natural to put women in weak positions.” Lecavalier adds that she gradually acquired the strength needed to lift men who weigh substantially
more than she does simply by rehearsing Human Sex. Lock also inverts tradition by choreographing movements in silence and adding the musical score only as a finishing touch. Said
Lock: “You have to be much more ambitious to create a dance that people can look at in silence than you do when you just lean on the music.”
Everything from La La La’s name to its austere but eclectic costumes—the women sometimes combine tutus with spandex bicycle shorts and running shoes— suggests a tough, urban trendiness. The absence of a unifying story line and the frenetic, headlong nature of the movement are also solidly contemporary. But while angst and despair tend to be the stock-in-trade of the aggressively hip set, the dominant message of La La La is one of possibility.
Lock says that when performers set themselves the task of doing something difficult onstage, the audience simultaneously wants to see them succeed and fears that they will fail. “When, through effort, a performer does manage to keep that promise,” he added, “it gives people the hope that they will be able to meet the goals in their
own lives.” Risk-taking and exhilarating, a performance by La La La can exorcise demons—and celebrate strength.
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