Chiharu Shibata in Alonzo Kings LINES Ballet.
By Mae G. Banner
King’s LINES Ballet
Jacob’s Pillow, Ted Shawn Theatre, Aug. 18
Two years ago, the last time Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet made
the trip from their San Francisco home to Jacob’s Pillow,
their best dance was accompanied by the great tabla player
Zakir Hussain, who performed live and in sight of an enthralled
time, the best dance was Koto (2002), a regional premiere
with music composed and performed by Miya Masaoka, who is
equally accomplished in traditional Japanese court music,
jazz and electronic music. Masaoka was seated on an upstage
platform, shrouded in darkness, while her spare and resonant
music supported the dancers in tensile loops and turns.
We could barely see Masaoka as she plucked single notes and
played harp-like glissandos on her instrument, which lay along
her lap like a distended dulcimer. I wish we could have seen
more of her, because her music and rhythm-marking vocalizing
were sometimes more interesting than the choreography.
Like many of King’s dances, Koto is organized in several
sections. Between opening and closing passages for the full
company, there was a marvelously realized quartet for women,
a male duet by Artur Sultanov and Brett Conway, and a tour
de force with the sinuous Chiharu Shibata tempting a male
The women, in ballet slippers, danced with fragile strength,
a surprising melding of opposite qualities. One woman did
a series of delicate, not-quite jumps, her feet barely skimming
the floor and quivering in response to its surface exactly
as the koto strings quivered under Masaoka’s hands.
In a display of stylized violence, Sultanov struck Gregory
Dawson with a long stick, knocking him to the ground. Then,
Sultanov, the attacker, fell exhausted, and Dawson rose, victorious
without having returned the blows.
The costumes by Robert Rosenwasser and Colleen Quen were of
horizontally pleated translucent cloth. They evoked images
of Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen; yet, they allowed for strenuous
movement. For the curtain call, Masaoka appeared in a similar
costume, an imposing figure in a wine-colored Kabuki robe
with full pleated sleeves and hem.
King’s dances follow his stated philosophy, which is to embrace
world cultures and to overthrow vertical severity of classical
ballet with swooping or earthbound modern dance lines. His
company, founded in 1982, is an international roster of a
dozen dancers who are ballet-trained, but who also are schooled
in Afro-Caribbean and Ailey techniques.
For all his interest in dances that convey ideas, King’s program
last week at the Pillow focused more on dancers’ good looks
and powerful technique. The men, especially, devour the stage
with a fierce attack in lunges and jetés. Russian-born former
Kirov Ballet dancer Sultanov was tireless and mesmerizing.
He appeared in three of the four dances, usually as soloist
or partner in the main duet.
In Tarab (1998), to music by master oud player Hamza
El Din, Sultanov plunged through air turns as if he were blown
by a fierce desert wind. In The Heart’s Natural Inclination
(2001), he bent forward deeply and curled into himself as
he glided slowly across the stage.
Except for Koto, which sustained its vocabulary of
movement in emotional accord with its music, the dancers too
often displayed the men as if they were bodybuilders and the
women as if they were on a chorus line. All of King’s dancers
have beautiful, powerful bodies, but the dances, including
Klang (1996) seemed to be cut from similar cloth. King
kept repeating the same set of showy high kicks or barren
arm movements, rather than creating a singular vocabulary
for each dance. Indeed, the program segued from The Heart’s
Natural Inclination to Klang without a pause, so
that I was not sure when one dance had ended and the next
The dancers looked great, especially the bare-chested men
who shone in several vigorous solos, but compared to King’s
Pillow concert two years ago, the ideas were few.
Mei Dance in /Asunder
Jacob’s Pillow, Doris Duke
Studio Theatre, Aug. 18
Yin Mei’s dance drama /Asunder is a multilayered work
that is less than the sum of its parts. This slow-motion tale
of a Buddhist monk’s transgressions, performed last week at
Jacob’s Pillow, aimed to reconcile Asian and Western ideas,
but perhaps deliberately, ended with no resolution.
Taken singly, some of the parts were quite beautiful. Visual
designer Cai Guo-Qiang’s fringed fans, the color of pink peonies,
and his full-face masks created an air of mystery. Most wonderful
were the arrows—scores of them, tipped with pink feathers—which
the four dancers hurled by the fistful at a blank ceiling-to-floor
scroll in the dance’s climactic scene. There they stuck, transforming
the white scroll into a watercolor painting of cherry blossom
Were we to conclude that out of violence, beauty is born?
The dance offered the image, but no answer.
Yin was born and trained in China. She has been based in New
York since 1985. In /Asunder, she’s joined by I Nyoman
Catra, a Balinese theatrical dancer of great agility and power;
Jeanine Durning, an avant-garde modern dancer from New York;
and Will Orzo, a French horn player who danced anyhow. The
four dance alone and in various combined duets, accompanied
by an original score by singer-cellist Robert Een, a vocalist
and two percussionists.
The musicians performed live, but offstage, which gave their
sounds of lamentation and animal cries an otherworldly quality.
When /Asunder premiered in May, 2001, it included a
text by poet Mark Strand. There was no text, written or spoken,
in last week’s performance at the Pillow, so the movement
had to speak for itself.
What did it say? Well, Yin’s long diagonal journey quietly
sliced the space as she seemed to mime a tortuous message
through an endless river, her flowing arms portraying calm,
then agitation. Catra, in a white lacquered mask, presented
a smiling face as he tried to possess her.
Durning replicated Yin’s movements in her solo, but her dancing
was bigger and looser. In a duet with Orzo, she rode his hip
and back in a long sequence in which she pretzeled around
him and never let him get to his feet.
Later, in a sort of German-expressionist sequence that seemed
totally out of keeping with the dance, Durning appears with
the bell of Orzo’s French horn pressed to her bare chest.
She exposes herself, and Orzo blows his horn, while she backs
Asian and Western ways were almost reconciled when the two
women, now dressed alike in tunics and pants, danced together
freely. But, it was not to be. Orzo began throwing arrows
at Catra, symbolically wounding him. Then, everyone threw
arrows in a great free-for-all that ended in darkness.