This weekend’s performance by Alonzo King LINES Ballet is the season’s penultimate for TITAS Presents. In King, they are bringing a giant of contemporary American ballet to the Winspear stage. Since 1982, the San Francisco-based choreographer and his company have merged classical ballet with a unique language of movement that is both intuitive and cerebral. King, who has set pieces for Joffrey Ballet and Alvin Ailey, among others, is known for his multicultural troupe—this son a of a prominent civil rights family in Georgia, who grew up with classical training and an inquiring mind.
King is known for collaborating with noted jazz composers and artists like tabla master Zakir Hussain, who rewrote the score for Scheherazade for King. He is known for his extremely physically demanding choreography. And for pieces in which he will, for example, make resin rain on stage–loaded with figurative, spiritual, religious relevance; also tangible and beautiful. His dancers, meanwhile, have earned a reputation for their expressive, kinetic intelligence and sense of connection. They seamlessly marry undulating, sinuous movement; the naturalism of the crouch; the developée and arabesque, the extension and elevation of classical ballet. Their dancing is melodic. Perhaps this is why it can seem like poetry in movement. King has won the Jacob’s Pillow Creativity award. In 2014, he was appointed to the advisory council of the Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU. He was named one of the country’s “Irreplaceable Dance Treasures” by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2015.
What does this look like, then, this modern-yet-classical ballet? Biophany, this weekend’s first piece, presented in 2015 at Jacob’s Pillow, is full of athleticism and grace, its themes touching on the zoomorphic, organic, intuitive. Bird sounds–part of an original soundscape by Bernie Krause and Richard Blackford–create the atmosphere for a dancer’s solo in a feathery, gossamer costume. There are breakdance moves, things happening in various parts of the stage simultaneously; at one point the ensemble becomes a swarm of rapid-moving insects, buzzy and diaphanous. The piece is ballet-based, but goes far beyond via naturalist movement. With its background of “found” sound, the rhythm seems to come from the movement itself.
Sand, meanwhile, the program’s second piece, is danced to the background of a jazzy saxophone melody that morphs and modulates, incorporating a piano. The dancers move in costumes that are spare and white. “Sand” feels very much more like an ensemble piece, and here, again, the music leads, is a companion and partner. At times, the work seem to embody what critics can sometimes grumble about as a lack of structure, a sense that the choreography loses direction, becomes too internally focused, and devolves into “dance for dance’s sake.” But there may be nothing more beautiful than the way the duet at the end of Sand embraces the floor, as though the two dancers were moving through or merging with it. Ballet, per se, is gone. It has been replaced by pure movement as idea or feeling. The effect is riveting.
Also intriguing to consider are King’s own words regarding the significance of the company’s name:
“The term LINES alludes to all that is visible in the phenomenal world. There is nothing that is made or formed without a line […] Whatever can be seen is formed by a line.”