When Montreal choreographer Édouard Lock of La La La Human Steps premieres a new work, it's an international dance-world event. His creations' bravura technique and theatrical spectacle have made him a global darling - his latest work premiered in Amsterdam in January to glowing reviews and only now are audiences in Canadian cities getting a chance to see it.
Simply titled New Work, it merges the love stories and music of two operas, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, with the score arranged by British composer Gavin Bryars, who replaces voice with saxophone. It features four live musicians and 10 dancers, among them star ballerina Diana Vishneva as a frequent guest soloist.
Lock's creations are an arresting fusion of speed, complicated combinations of gestures and footwork, the ability to propel bodies through the air at astonishing angles, and the integration of live musicians and film with the dance.
His company, La La La Human Steps, attracted immediate attention when he founded it in 1980. Human Sex (1985), starring his muse Louise Lecavalier, propelled Lock into the international limelight. He has collaborated on projects with David Bowie, Frank Zappa and Bette Midler, and created work for the Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the Dutch National Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet.
Lock, now 57, was born in Casablanca, Morocco. His Spanish mother and Moroccan father immigrated to Montreal when he was 3.
The Globe caught up with Lock in Montreal for a conversation that lasted into the wee hours.
Your choreographic style has gone through several key changes. What was your starting point?
Montreal was so isolated in the 1970s that we were instinctive creators. I regard those early works as middle-of-the-road theatrical modern dance. The movement was lyrical, light, diffused and soft.
Your 1985 work Human Sex hit critics and audiences like a bombshell.
I do admit that loud noise and excessive movement dominated the piece, but in reality, there was a vision. Modern dance had become a whisper trapped in a library. I believed strongly that theatre should be the exception to the norms of restraint. I deliberately created a sense of extremes and started to work closely with avant-garde rockers like the British group Blancmange who fused Hindu devotional music with Western pop. People called my choreography "punk," and I got stuck with that label for the next 15 years.
And then came the pointe shoes.
The first La La La piece en pointe was Exaucé/Salt in 1998. I'm fascinated by ballet because there is a very sparse set of dance options when you are en pointe. The body is idealized, the lines are highlighted. This is attractive to me as a tool, for either women or men.
How would you describe your company of today?
I never thought I'd have a ballet company, but that's what it is. Theatrical elements and thematic structures are built around movement that is charismatic and complex, but not excessive. The dancers take presentational risks, but not physical ones. Because my works are socially disturbing and perceived as being deliberately provocative, these aspects have been interpreted as dangerous physicality.
With Amjad in 2007, you made deconstructing Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty your central focus. With this new creation, you've been inspired by baroque opera, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice. What is driving this deconstruction phase?
In order to deconstruct, you first need historical icons that can trigger cultural memories embedded into the fabric of our society. Then you can shock the audience by attacking these self-referencing preconceptions.
What exactly does the word deconstruction mean to you?
Deconstruction means disassociation. In the arts, dance and music are associated by tradition. The emotion of the music influences how people view the dance, and vice versa. I interfere with the fundamental aspects of arts integration. The music is a separate entity from the dance, and the choreography is a separate element from the narrative. They are linked thematically only because they are taking place on the same stage. I introduce ideas that collide with conventional perceptions, such as Tchaikovsky's ballet fairy tales being the tip of something deep and dark, or the deaths of Dido and Eurydice being mythic journeys into the unconscious. The audience has to connect the dots. That's the adventure of art.
And finally, can you relent and tell us what La La La Human Steps means? I know you balk at that question. Also, why does this new work not have a title?
La La La represents baby talk, sounds without meaning, but with structure. In other words, the potential of the structure of baby talk is language. The potential of human steps is dance. As for titles, they don't mean anything. If one comes to me, I'll use it.
La La La Human Steps performs in Montreal Saturday night; Ottawa, May 18-19; and Toronto, May 26 to June 1.