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Mediatheque

Artist Interviews

Édouard Lock

Please introduce yourself and tell us where you come from and what you do in life.

My name is Édouard Lock and I'm the artistic director of the dance company LaLaLa Human Steps, which was started in June 1980. I'm also a choreographer.

Did you chose choreography or did it choose you?

There's no question about it: it certainly chose me. I knew very little about dance and I wasn't particularly physically active. I wanted to write and I was doing literature at university. Among my literature courses was a two-part theatre course with a dance option as the second part. The teacher was dancer Nora Hemmingway, who part of the Groupe de la Place Royale. She knew how to ignite an interest, a passion really, in her students--me especially. By presenting it as a series of possibilities to explore, she showed me a discipline I knew nothing about. I noticed that the students got more and more interested in the subject. We began by becoming aware that movement wasn't necessarily just functional; it was the first time I'd ever considered that. This first realization led to others, but it was this teacher who sparked my curiosity and gave me my first interest in dance.

She inspired you?

Absolutely! She believed in her art and was a terrific communicator, not just of ideas but of emotions and passions. I'd say she had everything that makes a good teacher. She knew how to convey things that we might not otherwise have grasped intellectually but certainly felt. The entire class felt that way. Without her, I would never have come to know this discipline.

What are your most memorable experiences as a choreographer?

I've been doing this for 30 years now, so I have a lot of experiences. I think that the company has undergone a human as well as a professional and artistic evolution as a result of the people who have been part of it, especially Marc Béland and Louise Lecavalier, whose viewpoints and opinions were often very different. As far as actual productions go, there are so many: I've worked with the Paris Opera, the Meadowlands Dance Theatre, the Dutch National Ballet and Frank Zappa. Over my thirty-year career I've danced in different places in Europe and elsewhere, and established close connections with a number of people over a very long time. We began to tour in Europe in 1982, and there are still people who first saw us then, who come to see us today. So we have very long-term relationships with the public. This is what I remember most about my career.

You mentioned your frequent European tours--to what do you attribute your company's success not just in Quebec and the rest of Canada, but also abroad, since you're also extremely popular internationally?

I really don't know. Our company has always had (and I think always will have) a genuine desire to communicate with our audiences. In some way, a performance is one of the last tribal experiences left to us. Two groups of strangers meet and, without any formal introduction or farewell, they're supposed to have an emotional and intellectual exchange, albeit brief, more appropriate to much closer relationships. I think the members of the group on the stage have to be ready to let go of all the norms that govern their ordinary daily life. We all want to avoid failure and always be effective and achieve good results, but on stage, an artist has to give up that desire and accept that in going beyond himself and his intellectual capacities he is opening the door to the possibility of failure. It's only when you take a real risk that an empathetic relationship can develop between you and the audience, who are also constantly placing themselves at risk of disappointment or failure. An artist can choose to present a charismatic production where everything is under control, there's no possibility of failure, and the audience has only to sit back and watch something perfect; or he can decide to establish an empathetic relationship with the audience, in which a spectator can recognize something of himself in the person on the stage. If failure is allowed, so is hope. Hope is the driving force of any emotional relationship that might emerge between the two groups. That calls for enormous generosity and no small measure of courage as well. Paradoxically, many stage performers are very vulnerable--that's the mix the company has always sought and I've always wanted to have in my collaborators. I think it's partly because of this special quality that the public keeps coming back to us: first, they sense that we're ready to go the limit for them, and also I present structures that have a specific relationship with how we see the body.

What is dance? I don't think it's an art form that should necessarily have a narrative element, tell a story or make a point. Rather, it's an art form that causes the viewer to reconnect visually and perceptually with his understanding of the body. Is it important? I think so, because our perception of what we are is partly intangible, if you stop at ideas and thoughts, and partly tangible, if you think of the body's form and the awareness you have of it. Maybe the body isn't as tangible as we think. A body in motion has attributes that, oddly enough, resemble thought, such as flows and transparencies. If you move your hand like this [ moves his hand up and down rapidly ], it actually becomes invisible, and if you continue to see it as a hand, it's because your thought superimposes a symbolic form on the information received by the eyes. This kind of constant readjustment keeps you from getting confused or losing balance when you see the body. If you look at it from a purely visual perspective, it has properties which are extremely abstract. When you see it that way, you no longer judge what is beautiful, ugly, fat, thin, young, old and so on. It becomes an extension, inclusive, a whole. I think this is a healthy way of seeing things.

When a dancer on stage starts to move very quickly or very slowly or in a complicated series of movements, we stop seeing the body as we know it because there is an information overload; and for a second, a half second or a quarter-second, we no longer see it from memory, we grasp the present, the now, the moment, everything that is based the body. When we're children, we start from what we are and venture beyond. Our way of grasping the world and its different aspects (social, political, etc.) is built on a very simple and personal foundation: the body we were given when we came into this life. When this perception is touched, shaken up, altered, even for a split second, everything that rests on this foundation is also changed in some way. We may not know exactly what is going to change, but there will definitely be a reawakening, a renewal, of our perception, no matter how brief. Dance is an art form that offers this possibility of reawakening in relation to something as basic as the body. In choreography, this is something that I find interesting.

You're telling us, in effect, that human beings are conditioned to see things in a certain way?

In Western civilization, there has been a division between spirit and body, or between the mental and intellectual and the physical, for hundreds if not thousands of years. This is an arbitrary and unreal separation, which our society tends to exaggerate because it doesn't see the body as a whole but as a kind of container of problems in the areas of beauty, health, etc. At its best, dance tends to reunite these polarities; the body stops being an aesthetic tool and becomes a whole again.

Could you speak about the professional evolution that led you to the choreographic language you use today?

It was an inner journey. I created my first piece in 1974, with the Nouvelle Aire company, which was one of the driving forces in Quebec choreography at that time. Many of the members of the group are still active on the choreographic scene as teachers, founders of their own companies or performers, including Paul-André Fortier, Ginette Laurin, Michelle Febvre and Iro Tembeck. I had the good luck to do my first choreography with Ginette Laurin, Paul-André Fortier and Philippe Vita, who were all members of the company at the time. In the morning, when nobody was using the studio, we would experiment. At one point, the director decided to present my piece, which was called Temps volé . That's how I started doing choreography ... What was the question?

...the difference between your choreographic language then and now.

It's something that has been evolving for 30 years. I see evolution as accepting certain principles and rejecting others. It's a dynamic process, which means that during and after each piece, I feel closer to some of the elements presented than to others. Some of those elements will show up in the next piece and those that I found less interesting will be dropped. Over a 30-year period this kind of evolution means enormous changes.

In 1997, I started to use point in our work. style. I had already used it for other dance companies, first in 1987 when I created a piece for the Dutch National Ballet, using Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major. The company was directed at that time by Rudi van Danzig, who invited me, I think, because he wanted something sensational. Our company was then touring a very provocative piece called Human Sex . Being Dutch, Rudi van Danzig thought that it was a wonderful idea to invite a choreographer who would shake things up a bit. As far as I was concerned, I had created a beautiful ballet using point in a traditional way. I remember the first time van Danzig came to see a rehearsal on stage, it was just before the dance started and the dancers were warming up backstage. He looked at them and then turned to me and said delightedly, "Édouard, what a marvellous idea putting the whole ballet backstage. There's nothing on stage, it's all in the wings. It's brilliant!" Unfortunately I had to tell him that really the dancers were just warming up and were going to end up on stage.

I thought it was a great production and as I felt at ease with point, in 1997 I decided to incorporate it into our company's work.

Who have been your sources of inspiration?

There are so many ... Those at the beginning of my career are probably more significant than later on. One of the first was a choreographer called Toohkaye who worked in New York in the late '70s. She made me understand that when you make an audience aware of what you intend to communicate on stage, you open the door to failure, as I said before. I grasped this tension through her works, which I understood on a very personal level.

Trisha Brown also had an influence on me because of the precision of her work, something that attracted me to choreography.

So, context matters...?

As far as I'm concerned, yes. There's a social context, which gives it a constant colouration or fragrance. When you work in a particular context (for me, it's Montreal), inevitably there's an influence that is felt ... But I don't believe that someone interpreting a choreographic work should try to guide public perception. Dance is more interesting when it stays structural and doesn't try to tell a story or transmit a political message (that's just my opinion, of course; other people have different ideas).

The dancer is like a source of white light; the audience is the prism and will look for the blue, the red ... whatever colour a spectator likes. If the interpretation is more general and the artist works with a full palette of colours, the members of the audience will rely on his colours and his perception and his point of view to understand the piece.

Is that what you expect of your audiences?

No, I don't expect anything.

Do you want audiences to take something from your works?

Of course, but audiences are basically self-centred and will react as they understand and look for what they want to see. Sometimes, spectators find something that interests them, sometimes they don't. That's the way it should be. I don't think I'd be interested in having a specific expectation of the public.

What special qualities are you looking for in your dancers and performers?

There are many. They have to know how to communicate, be ready to take risks, be able to redo the same technical element and repeat the same choreographic structures over and over with a certain control while at the same time leaving room for development. We don't do improvisation; we work within a structure so the dancers' technical skills are important. As I said earlier, I look for dancers who are ready to give up their ego to go toward aspects of interpretation that are not necessarily perfectly controlled, and who are ready to pay the price in terms of stress and doubt. Also dancers who are intellectually curious. And I want dancers that I get along with, because the company does three-year tours so it's important that everybody can communicate in a genuine and open manner.

Would you have any advice to give dance students?

Probably... If someone wanted to come and see me, I'd be delighted to advise him or her. I don't think there's any general advice, applicable to all. I adapt my advice to the person I'm talking to.

What are the highlights of your career?

There are many highlights and many areas of interest. I don't want to say that some experience was more valuable than some other one. My work has been the subject of all kinds of analyses and I've done it in a variety of circumstances with a variety of people. It's an ongoing evolution and I like that.

Have you any advice for audiences, young or old, who are just getting acquainted with dance?

I think the only advice I could give would be to go see a performance and be aware of what you are experiencing or feeling. You shouldn't think that there's a particular way to act or be when you go to a dance performance. As I said earlier, audiences are self-centred; each person is looking for what interests him or her, and a performance that touches one person could leave another cold. But it's important to realize that you can't just ask the question "Do you like dance?" any more than you can ask "Do you like music?" If I go up to somebody on the street and ask whether he likes music, he will answer, "What kind of music are you talking about--what genre, what kind of composer, what instrument, what era?" But if I ask the same question about dance, most people would say yes or no, as if I'd actually asked something; whereas, in fact, I haven't. What people should be told is that they're going to see a dance performance, produced by someone and expressing the viewpoint of the choreographer and performers, and that it might please them or might not. If it pleases them, that's wonderful; if not, they should see something else. But certainly, everybody can find something in dance to enjoy. It's not possible not to.

How do you see the future of dance?

In some way, you could say that the future of dance and its past coincide, because dance is an art form that hasn't had much to do with technology. I've already made a film about dance. Perhaps you can look for a better viewpoint or repeat something until you've perfected the interpretation, but when you get on stage everything you've got has already been there for a long, long time. You have a body, which has limitations and isn't enhanced by technology, and you find yourself in a room with other people with similar bodies. Using this extremely ancient tool, you give all you can on the level of movement and structure. It's difficult to compare dance to other art forms where you see people do all kinds of extraordinary things. What gives dance its power is that you believe profoundly in it--there's no artifice. The audience knows that what they are seeing is really what's happening. The impact of what is being communicated is much greater. An art based on such an ancient principle lifts the perception of the human because it shows people stripped of all artifice. Sometimes it's important to go back to basics and realize the extent to which you can be powerful, interesting and complex by remaining simple. Everything is built on this first impression, this core. You have to come back to this core and believe in it.

We have a tendency to try to find a progression, an evolution, but I think that even though choreographic ideas and experiments change continually, they're always built on the same basic principle. It's something that will remain precious and will probably become more so as technology expands everywhere. It will be important to go back to the source from time to time. Dance will have to remind us of that.