As the eight frighteningly cool, almost robotic dancers in "Amelia" charged through Édouard Lock's insistent bursts of high-tech dancing, I found myself frequently thinking of automatons and androids. The woman floating and diving through space in the film sequence that opens the work seems to turn into a mannequin, and there was very little humanity on display during the work's 80 minutes. The repetitively looping duality of David Lang's score—not to mention the brutal lighting by John Munro—added to the chilly bleakness of what transpired. It seemed as though Lock had asked his dancers to duplicate as much as possible the quality of movement one sees in the animated figures of computerized choreography. Limbs slashed through space and bodies spun on their axes with dazzling speed and precision, almost defying the existence of a living, breathing core.
The majority of "Amelia" consists of male-female duets, with the women wearing chic black leotards with sheer bodices, white tights and toe shoes, while the men wear stylish closed black jackets and pants. The women are on toe for long stretches at a time, being twisted and spun, their arms flashing through desperate high-speed semaphores. The men, with understated skill and impeccable timing, hold them at their waist, easing them into their sudden shifts of weight and balance. These couples are face to face, but their connection is purely mechanical, a way to facilitate the eerie, incessant movement that often looks as though we're seeing it at Fast Forward speed.
For most of "Amelia," there is such an insistence on verticality that the pose the dancers assume as a frequent punctuation mark—reclining on their side, with one knee up, arm draped overhead—comes as a sharp surprise each time it appears. For a few seconds, these dancers' bodies take on a teasingly sensual look—but then they spring upright as abruptly and swiftly as they dropped to the floor, and they return to their coolly mechanical ways.
There's a sense of disciplined hysteria throughout the piece, due in part, I'm sure, to the intense concentration it must take to produce Lock's unforgivingly insistent movement. Much of the time, one is left amazed that bodies can even do some of what he demands—that legs can slice and flick through space that sharply and rapidly, that bodies can turn and twist repeatedly and maintain their taut, severe aplomb. Lock uses the toe shoe primarily for the elongated line it adds and for the smooth pivoting and swiveling it facilitates. The women almost rarely through space, and Lock's face-to-face close encounters start to feel claustrophobic.
A section for the four women is a welcome interruption; even tough their
movement was not radically different here, at least the configurations
and juxtapositions of the bodies is different. They sink and slide to
the floor bonelessly, assuming the odalisque pose just long enough for
it to register, before they launch into something else. Similarly, a duet
for two men, Jason Shipley-Holmes and Bernard Martin, introduces a few
moments when their bodies are allowed to lose the rigidity that dominates
Lock incorporates set pieces that resemble a lacy version of the brambles have grown around the castle in "Sleeping Beauty," but they are never fully visible due to the mostly bleak look of Munro's busy lighting scheme. Much of the time, the dancers are only partially visible as his beams illuminate segments of the stage, but not necessarily the place are where they are dancing. Often, they are required to run through darkness to assume a new position. Sometimes the lights shifted suddenly in a way that had the effect of a jump cut in a film. It was arty, all right, but mainly it was overly busy and ultimately annoying. And of course, it had that all-important ultra-cool effect of always keeping the dancers' faces in shadowy light.
Interestingly, the 60-minute film version of "Amelia," featuring the same dancers plus one additional woman, is a completely different experience—brightly lit and performed in an intriguing set consisting of smooth pale wood with sloping walls and not right angles. Here, the faces are vividly exposed—indeed, at times, the camera is overly fascinated by their details, lingering over a pair of eyes or a profile. I enjoyed the hint of nervousness displayed by Zofia Tujaka, the ferocious concentration of the one notably petite women in the cast, and discovering the sweet look of delight that plays across Billy Smith's face. It's reassuring to have confirmation that they are human after all.
Photos (and front page): La La La Human Steps in "Amelia" performed at BAM. Photo: Richard Termine.
3, No. 5