ballet: Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet.
the Ethnic Meets the Classical
Mae G. Banner
King’s LINES Ballet
Egg, April 8
Poised in the mid-regions between ballet and weighted modern
dance, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, in concert at the Egg,
performed two abstract suites that suggested suffering, labor
and the need to care for one another.
the Blues (2004), is a collage of at least a dozen pieces
set to fragments of archival African-American songs, layered
with soundscapes of wind and waves, cushioned with original
sax solos by Pharoah Sanders, and patched with voiceover read
ings by Danny Glover. There is also, unaccountably, but wonderfully,
a climactic passage from a Corelli concerto grosso.
Swatches of music are paired with strips of dance in an enigmatic
composition that’s held together by fabulous dancing and the
subtle repetition of a few motifs, such as deep forward bends
that suggest African roots, or long arms and legs extended
at unusual angles. The nine dancers wear ballet slippers,
not pointe shoes. They move with balletic eloquence, but with
a flat- footed twist.
King’s choreography shows an acute sense of composition. He
favors solos and duets, but likes to set them against groups
of three or four dancers in the background, and then to merge
leading and supporting dancers into new and shifting groups.
Lines of dancers split into pairs who knot into clusters that
form arresting stage pictures. Four dancers lift a fifth,
seemingly against her will, and carry her until she frees
herself and knocks them all to the ground, where, sitting
in defeat, they scootch offstage on their butts.
The old moans and field hollers, gathered from the Library
of Congress’s collection, sometimes draw attention from the
dance, while Sanders’s breathy sax supports the movement and
deepens its sadness. Glover’s nuanced repetition of a single
word or phrase is sometimes healing, as when he says, “yes,”
over and over, but, too often cross the line into self-indulgence.
The dancers, especially Chiharu Shibata, Prince Credell, and
Gregory Dawson, seem filled with music as their chests move
forward and back with the beat. Credell is stupendous in a
proud solo to the Corelli concerto in which he embodies the
nobility of an African prince.
King, based in San Francisco, often draws on world music that
underscores the universality of dance and the human condition.
Who Dressed You Like a Foreigner? (1998) is propelled
by the speedy, strong and delicate fingers of the tabla virtuoso
The six-part suite of solos and duets, often set against the
company of dancers, infuses balletic form with the vigor of
South Indian Kathak. In Duty, Joan Michael Schert presents
Drew Jacoby, supporting her in a traditionally balletic way.
Standing behind him, she puts her arms on his shoulders and
whirls him around. Clearly, she leads the dance.
Schert solos in Faith, a wide-legged dance with lots
of backward steps. The company of eight joins him in a unison
passage that made me smile as the kaleidoscopic shapes stirred
me to alertness. This was followed by Time, a swift
challenge duet between Brett Conway and Shibata that set the
dancers spinning until the music drove them into the darkness
Out of the stillness, the company surges forward in Wave.
Now, Credell and Dawson ramp up the speed, like coriander
seeds popping in a pan of hot oil. The duo becomes a quartet,
then a trio as dancers are whisked in and out by what seems
like inner forces, propelled by muscle, speed and torsion.
The repetition of music and movement heats up to a fervent
pitch—then, all is dark and still.
The final movement, Ma, is of a wholly different timbre
than everything that has gone before. This duet between Laurel
Keen and Brett Conway is an Indian Pieta in which the
woman breathes the spirit of life into a man who has died.
The dancers are totally connected on what seems a mythic level
in this sustained narrative that begins with Keen rolling
a lifeless Conway up onto her lap, rocking him and cradling
his head while the tabla plays a dirge. Gradually, she raises
him to his knees, forcibly willing life into him as if breathing
spirit into a lump of clay.
She places his feet on the ground, rises with him, stands
him up and walks him before her. She lets him go. Then, her
back to him, she puts his arms around her waist and walks,
so he is following her as her arms spread out like angel’s
She forces him, even kicks him into motion. It is not an easy
birth. At last, standing alone, he jumps in place, and she
sits and rests, godlike, and opens her arms to receive him
is an engrossing dance, full of portent, which I watched unblinking
and with bated breath.