BECKET — At Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this week, the company of legendary choreographer Alonzo King — Alonzo King LINES Ballet, which celebrates its 40th anniversary — presents a program that powerfully illustrates its decades-long investigation of the flux between the physical and the metaphysical. He is interested in the functioning of the physics of dance, but he is also interested in the poetic possibilities of the human body. The supreme entertainer/athlete of his troop is nothing short of a cookie cutter; individualism is king, but the feeling that the uniqueness of one being will result in a more unified humanity is king.
The first, shorter part of the program is made up of four excerpts from longer dances sewn together and titled “Four Heart Testaments”. In 2020’s ‘Grace’ of ‘Pie Jesu’, longtime company dancer Adji Cissoko makes her way from backstage to backstage, the stork walking on her gloriously long legs while her torso and arms wave and wave; this physical multiplicity – one or more parts of the body extending, with impossible length, while other parts of the body bend, whip and coil with impossible speed – is one of the many familiar Kingisms seen in the physical vocabulary of his dances. When Ilaria Guerra walks in, shortly afterwards, she points to another breathtaking aspect of King’s phrases, and so remarkable for the level to which his dancers have taken them: despite the velocity of many of the movements, they’re somehow not blurry. , they are instead etched in space.
While this juxtapositional physicality is, in King’s choreography, generally imbued with a creamy texture, there are deliberately jarring imagery, as in “Writing Ground,” the excerpt from 2010’s “Over My Head,” on a wonderful recording by Kathleen Battle. singing the traditional title song. Madeline DeVries, another star of King’s galaxy, stumbles awkwardly, twists her legs, or flips like a rag doll at the end of her rope, but keeps going nonetheless.
The two men, Shuaib Elhassan and Michael Montgomery, in the opening section, meanwhile, demonstrate other King specialties, pirouettes in which the gestural leg moves, as if waving, from position to position. the other, while the rest of the dancer’s body maintains an eerie eye of the storm, so the bend continues one way or another. Sometimes the dancers transition into other movements, seamlessly, though sometimes they stop, artfully, hovering. King also has showmanship marks. His dancers often stand to the side, staring at another dancer, usually with easy camaraderie; in the third section, however (an excerpt from King’s 2008 “The Radius of Convergence”), this motif is steeped in uncertain drama as four men encircle a now cool, now restless James Gowan, or form various lines behind or to the side of him, like a corps de ballet framing the soloist.
Often, when the observers begin to dance, it is not necessarily to form a traditional duo or ensemble, but rather the effect produced by a series of overlapping virtuoso soloists. In the fourth section, King’s 2007 “Rasa” single, Elhassan, Gowan and Montgomery take that to high octane peaks and then end up, simply, spiritually, just sitting exhausted with their hands over their heads.
The roaring standing ovation (no kidding) that followed this compilation felt like a deeply cathartic outing after this absorbing dive into King’s world. After an intermission, his “Azoth” from 2019 is shown in its entirety (it lasts about 50 minutes): pace yourself. This tour de force is another visual feast, but, over the course of the evening, there’s so much to take in that so much may seem like too much.
Or that first course can serve as the perfect entry into the main lobby. This is, certainly, familiar King territory, which means that (to me, anyway) along with the occasional feeling that there’s an overreliance on fireworks out of nowhere, there’s also the frequent pleasure of the absolute, undeniable and supernatural beauty of its images, and interpreted by these spectacular dancers. On the now bluesy and jazzy score by Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran for piano, saxophone and flute, the cast of twelve moves through an eclectic series of sections, some of which flow seamlessly together, while others appear abruptly – or tantalizingly, you decide. With three suspended grids, and later, small portable lamps, the lighting and “image technology” of Jim French and Jim Campbell project the dancers either into an evocative shadow or into a bath of heat.
The title, as the program note explains, refers to the element “considered the essential agent of transformation in alchemy”, and although much of the ballet is an abstract display of these fires of artifice, there are indeed signs of transformation here and there. Some changes are in clothing – the dancers have several costume changes; sometimes they are almost stripped by the beautiful designs of Robert Rosenwasser, their leotards blending perfectly with their skin tones, sometimes waves of gold fade into deep blues. The most overt, yet mysterious narrative possible, unfolds in a long sequence in which Lorris Eichinger first battles unseen forces, thrusting through the air with thorny limbs, but is eventually caught and cradled, protectively, by the others. He crouches behind the scenes, his fate uncertain. At the end of their equally curious duet, Cissoko and Montgomery, via King, reverse the too usual order of the gender pas de deux, she standing and leading him, also squatting, by the hand, in the opposite wings. .
What: Alonzo King LINES Ballet
Where: Ted Shawn Theatre, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, 358 George Carter Road, Becket
When: Until Sunday August 7th.
Performances: 8 p.m. on August 5 and 6; 2 p.m., August 6 and 7
Tickets: $55 – $85
Reservations and more information: 413-243-0745, jacobspillow.org