DANCE REVIEW: Alonzo King’s Spiritual Quest Lines Ballet

Alonzo King grew up in Albany, Georgia, and in his parents’ home he knew the presence of civil rights leaders such as the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and singer Lena Horne. His mother and father founded The Albany Movement, a community program to resist the restrictions of black repression after the Civil War. Both had pledged to perceive and speak the truth. She loved to dance and her father exposed her to art.

At 21, Alonzo King and his friend Robert Rosenwasser founded Lines Ballet, which “denies the notion of ballet as something romantic or arbitrary” and “sees it more as a science, with a set of principles-based concepts universals which do not vary.” These “align with Western physics as well as the Eastern conception of energy flow”.

King says, “Ballet is a core of ideas and the manipulation of energy to express those ideas.” He urges his dancers to dive deep into their bodies to find their own muscular and spiritual energies and inspirations, “rather than reconsidering the dynamic assumptions to which form has historically been attached”.

Where ballet is traditionally associated with the qualities of complacency, that is, with the ideals of Versailles, emphasizing grace, decoration and lyricism, King propelled the form straight into the present. His hyper-speed and propulsion seem at home in the digital world, as does the aggressiveness of his rhythmic attack. King’s choreography weaves its way through space with an insistent physicality that celebrates flesh and blood, underscores the quaintness of traditional ballet languor as a relic of the time when women were idealized as immaterial. King’s equalization of gender roles and masculine and feminine techniques thrust ballet into the post-feminist world.

“It celebrates the gains to be made in risk-taking and breaking the rules: transposing and reversing body slapping, folding lines back on themselves, activating a fluid spine. Her work celebrates boldness, energy, freedom and strength, rejecting ‘correct’ dancing for impulsive dancing. The only thing he worships is pushing into the unknown. (Pillow Talks by Judy Tire and Suzanne Carbonneau, 2022)

In this short video, Alonzo King summarizes his dance teaching philosophy, which emphasizes the discovery, enhancement and expression of each individual’s deep bodily perceptions and understanding. Judy Tyre, the Pillow Scholar in Residence who was a member of her Lines company, told the audience during her Pillow Talk pre-performance that it informs her choice of dancers.

“Four Testaments of the Heart”

The first half of the program consisted of four moving excerpts from the dances of Alonzo King –Grace (2020), writing ground (2010), Convergence radius (2008), and rasa (2008) – which address the delights and personal challenges of intimacy and love and bring out both his artistic vision and the virtuosity of his performers.

“Grace” from Four Heart Testaments. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

Grace is set to this celestial performance of the Pie Jesus movement of Gabriel Faure Requiem by Lucia Popp and the Staatskapelle Dresden under the direction of Sir Colin Davis. Dancers Adji Cissoko, Ilaria Guerra and Michael Montgomery glided and engaged with stunning fluidity and, along with the beautifully projected music, ceremonial grandeur.

“Writing Ground” from Four Heart Testaments. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

In writing ground, soprano Kathleen Battle sings the spiritual Above my head I hear music, as dancer Madeline DeVries, clad in a sheer silk dress, strode across the stage, dramatically tossing and turning her long hair, arching her back as she twirled her arms, capturing the phrasing with delightfully extensions balanced both upwards and downwards. She left quietly to give way to several moments of reverie in the audience, followed by tumultuous applause.

“The Ray of Convergence” from Four Heart Testaments. Photo by Danica Paulos, courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow

In The radius of convergence, the music of composer and double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders framed an ensemble of five male dancers. In a dramatic moment, a dancer leaps into the arms of the back four. They grab him then push him back and he pushes them back. Suddenly, in silence, the four men leave, sadly followed by the other. Such powerful gestures of synchrony, reception and rejection, seem to stage male solidarity, support, rejection and suffering. Michael Montgomery and James Gowan alternate as the front dancer in different performances. The four dancers in the back are Lorris Eichinger, Shuaib Elhassan, Alvara Montelongo and Joshua Francique.

“Rasa” from Four Heart Testaments. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

Tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain composed this shimmering rasa featuring Indian percussion and Indian classical violin master Kala Ramnath. Soprano and tenor voices create a hypnotic intensity even as powerfully propelling rhythms energize the bodies of dancers Michael Montgomery, Lorris Eichinger, Shuaib Elhassan and Alvaro Montelongo.

In this video of an earlier performance, we perceive the extraordinary intimacy between male and female dancers who almost never separate. Miraculously balancing together in sinuous contact – but not necessarily sexualized until the very end when, seemingly fearfully, they separate – they both forcefully and delicately apply to each other and lift , twist, twirl and touch each other with moving intensity

“Azoth”

Azoth. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

In Azoth jazz and classical piano virtuoso Jason Moran and renowned saxophonist, clarinetist and flautist Charles Lloyd provide a delightfully evocative and often swinging backdrop to an imaginary amalgamation of physics and the catalysts for the creation of gold.

As can be seen in this video extract from a previous performance in France in June 2021, dancers in rectangular and linear formations play for each other and join in extended duo assemblages that branch out on stage. Lighting is dramatic, often provided by rectangular grids of multiple rows of bulbs hanging down the back and wings of the stage, which change color from white to gray and eventually gold.

Azoth. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

Towards the end of the dance, when the stage is completely darkened, the individual dancers hold small versions of the grids and illuminate the central dancers with them, creating moving images of light and shadow. A provocative evocation of the molecular transformation of metal involves a performer performing a purposeful moving scan by pressing down on a grid on either side of a kneeling colleague’s head.

After many sequences of fast groupings, set to improvised riffs over formal chord progressions, which include both bluesy tones and magical boogie-woogie in which Moran sustains a wildly repeated beat. ostinato between the lowest and highest notes of the keyboard, Adji Cissoko in flowing gold and Michael Montgomery in plain brown shorts wrap around each other in a long, sometimes edgy, sometimes romantic pas de deux seemingly exploring the many ways two human elements can intertwine and relate to each other.

If lead, mercury, radiation and magic can unite in a choreography, it is ultimately obvious that to like is the source of gold.