Alonzo King LINES Ballet has been a force in the contemporary ballet world for quite some time—the San Francisco company was founded in 1982—and their latest stop in Seattle as part of the UW World Series showed that they are still going strong. There is a definite LINES aesthetic: lots of leg, lots of skin to show off lean muscles, serpentine arms, and fluid choreography that presents line as malleable rather than static. The dancers’ bodies are front and center as the choreography moves them through shifting patterns and tricky, intricate, detailed phrases. Ballet technique is the foundation, but these dancers also have a strong connection to the floor and an ability to move off-center in a way not demanded by classical choreography. King has honed an aesthetic that yields not only visually interesting and impressive choreography, but highly versatile dancers as well. LINES’ Meany Hall program (May 1-3) featured three of King’s works.
King’s recent Concerto for Two Violins (2013) opened the evening with a new interpretation of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor—the same music as Balanchine’s iconic Concerto Barocco. It is difficult not to think of Barocco when hearing this music, and the first movement featured two soloists interweaving like the two violins (similar to Barocco), but the movement and spatial patterns are a refreshing world apart. While Balanchine matched the music’s timing with pristine geometry, King’s choreography inhabited different cadences, as if the dancers found their movement and formations within the internal structure of each harmony. The gorgeous second movement quartet (Meredith Webster, Kara Wilkes, David Harvey, and Michael Montgomery) featured the dancers connecting limbs and sharing weight, with a recurring motif of three dancers making the fourth promenade around. The effect was like a shifting carousel as they found different entangled shapes to recreate the same basic image. Concerto provided a robust new vision of a tried-and-true piece of music.
The excerpt from Writing Ground (2010) was the most thematically compelling piece of the night—the aesthetic and choreography had the most simpatico relationship with the ideas behind the piece. This is not to say the ideas were always clear, but the sometimes disturbing ambiguity made it memorable, even in excerpted form. Webster, reaching through every inch of her Sylvie-Guillem-like frame, took uncertain steps, falling and leaning into four male partners from whom she was never far. They carried her high above their heads, making her nosedive and arch without touching the ground. Here, the fluid, leggy aesthetic highlighted the vulnerability of a person under stress, as her long limbs gave way underneath her or made her an easy target for physical manipulation. At the end, Webster began a silent laugh (or scream?), further raising a question of what these men were doing to her—was she in prison? in an asylum?—and blurred the lines between their manipulation of her and her need for support.
The evening closed with Rasa (2007), a collaboration between King and tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, who performed live with Kala Ramnath. The music provided a solid partner for the choreography, with a blend of Indian classical percussion, strings, and vocals giving the dancers a broad palette of textures to embody. Despite the engaging music, the first half of the work looked much like the rest of the night in terms of movement (and costume)—the only real difference seemed to come in the stunning lighting and set design (from Alain Lortie and Robert Rosenwasser, respectively). However, Rasa’s second half saw some truly dazzling phrasework, including a dizzyingly fast section of vocal percussion, matched beat for beat by the choreography. The dancers, too, exhibited their greatest technical feats; Babatunji, Caroline Rocher, Jeffrey Van Sciver, and Webster all deftly combined virtuosic technique with a keen sense of phrasing.
LINES heads to Houston and San Diego before returning for a home season in San Francisco, followed by a European tour. More about the company at linesballet.org.