Many are the choreographers who have tried to merge the harsh rhythms of rock 'n' roll with postmodern dance, but few have been able to have serious careers while convincing the rock world of their ability to work in the commercial arena.
Montreal choreographer Edouard Lock is one of those who have. Earlier this year rock star David Bowie met with Lock to see if he might like to choreograph Bowie's current "Glass Spiders" tour. Lock regretfully declined in order to honor previous commitments regarding his latest dance, "New Demons," which will have its U.S. premiere Tuesday at the Embassy Theatre as part of the Los Angeles Festival.
Lock, 32, attributes his good fortune in attracting artists like Bowie to one word--passion, a quality he considers intimately bound up with physical risk. Just the briefest look at the his five-person company, the oddly named La La La Human Steps, tells why: Lock's dancers don't just dance, they fly through the air, hurling themselves into each others arms in a circuitous, anarchic haze of stylized violence.
Through it all, Lock himself performs as a kind of astonished, aloof interlocutor, making the themes of the work verbally explicit as he dances between the live musicians sharing the stage with the performers.
"There's a difference between having passion on stage and initiating passion," the Moroccan-born choreographer says. "The first one is real easy. You can be real passionate about what you are doing, but who cares? The second one is much tougher. Initiating passion with the audience is a much harder task because you're not necessarily living with passion yourself.
"So the only way to make an audience feel strongly about something is to develop this incredible work ethic that makes what you do very special."
Lock cites La La La dancer Louise Lecavalier, a young woman with a peroxided mane of scraggly hair who won a Bessie Award last year for her work in his "Human Sex," as an example of someone who has understood how much work it takes to create this brand of hyper-physical, high-precision dancing.
"The kind of passion I encourage on stage is for the work," he says, "for effort. Louise is the best example, because initially she was not that interesting to look at at all. I never thought she would be interesting to look at. She thought she'd be interesting to look at, and she worked so damn hard at it, working ridiculous hours with weights and hard work, it became true."
But Lock's passion isn't only for passion (and hard work) itself. If anything, Lock used dance as a form of artistry that is uniquely suited to our culture's reliance upon the mechanisms of appearance.
"Today, the idea of being convincing has nothing to do with choosing words," he says. "It has to do with the choice of appearance or the choice of movement. So the choreographer--who works directly with appearances--is perfect in this day and age. Except that somehow people don't think that dance is vitally involved in their life style, and I think that's a major mistake."
Which is where rock 'n' roll comes in.
"Both pop music and dance were fairly well-linked together at the beginning," says Lock. "When you look at the pop pioneers, what was striking about them was how they moved. The stuff they were doing was absolutely brilliant: Jerry Lee Lewis going nuts at the piano, the very young Chuck Berry doing splits on stage. A lot of these people would have blown a lot of the choreographers we have right now off the stage because they had such a visceral, physical presence.
"And although (the dance and the music) became separated, in some ways the real revolutionary aspect of those pioneers had to do with their bodies more than with their voices. Had people understood that, I think that choreography would have had a much stronger impact than it does now."
Even though Lock is somewhat pessimistic about the odds of making it as a choreographer in the entertainment world, he has still come to believe that "dance is probably one of the more powerful art forms to be able to control in 1987, if only because the way the body can be visually construed has become so important.
"One of the most important functions an artist has is the ability to disorient," he says, "because our worst enemy is the overabundant sense of familiarity we think we develop with our environment. And that creates boredom, which creates a sense of dictatorship in our lives.
"And so the thing that the artist can contribute is to disorient, and to do so with the human body is even more disorienting because people know it so well that it's become a big crutch. And if they feel a newness with that then they will feel it profoundly, because it's their basic tool of expression.
"The way they'll look at their own bodies will be totally revolutionized."