Human Sex by LaLaLa Human Steps is a wonderfully choreographed and precisely executed dance performance. The piece is a celebration of love with all the interdependencies between the lovers. It brims with optimism and energy, colorfully portraying the physicality of love and ecstasy. The two dancers largely conform to gender stereotypes, whereby, the male dancer exhibits more energy and strength, while the female dancer excels in grace and swiftness. But the performance is punctuated with deliberate role reversals which serve to abstract the concept of gender from biological identification. There are women-on-top maneuvers that suggest female sexual prowess. In one movement, the entire weight of the male performer is borne by the female dancer’s back.
The other notable feature of this LaLaLa classic is how punk-rock music was adapted to a modern dance genre. This is a bold and novel innovation by the group, consistent with their reputation for originality and unique style. The fearless physicality of the moves of the duet represents the carefree intimacy between the lovers. This stands in sharp contrast to the somewhat tense relationship between the protagonists in Mats Ek’s Smoke.
In comparison, Mats Ek’s Smoke sees a range of dance forms synergized to produce a grand visual spectacle. It contains traditional features of ballet as well as Ek’s unique dance elements like lunges, waving backs and pedestrian gestures. This last element had particularly attracted critical attention, with critics either effusively praising it or harshly condemning it. Mats Ek’s philosophy of dancing had always been based on the simple belief that ‘movement is dance’. This opens up his choreographic style to infinite possibilities.
In Smoke, we see how the difficult subject of ‘a relationship in decline’ is illustrated through the medium of dance. The typical life-cycle of any romantic relationship is taken to be the model. But where Ek succeeds is in capturing the intensity of love, pathos of suffering and the ensuing aftermath of regret. Indeed, Smoke is divided into these three neat compartments, with their attendant paraphernalia, costumes, stage props, lighting and music.
The usage of walls in Smoke merit special mention, for they serve as both prop and symbol. In terms of utility, the wall helps the dancers perform certain horizontal maneuvers. Besides, the wall represents the state of entrapment felt by individuals in a troubled relationship. The wall also alludes to how their relationship had reached a terminal point, beyond which it cannot sustain itself. The sequence where Sylvie Guillem is pinned or cornered to a wall in a state of helplessness underscores this metaphor. The solo performance in the third and final part of the video shows Guillem in a solemn, regretful mood. Her movements showcase the acute suffering brought-on through the breakdown of her relationship. But through confronting her grief, she sets the path for acceptance and renewed optimism.
While both Smoke and Human Sex have elements of theatricality in their composition, they were meant for the video. This is evident in the skillful way in which shots and sequences are transitioned. While theatre offers a fixed and distanced perspective, the video purposefully zooms in and out toward the action. In terms of technical features, Human Sex is marked by its breathtaking speed and curve movement. Smoke, on the other hand is easily paced and employs sudden, demonstrative movements.
LaLaLa Human Steps, Human Sex, retrieved from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRt5Y439dvU> on 16th June, 2014.
Mats Ek, Smoke, retrieved from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA0TMA5tQP4> on 16th June, 2014.