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LINES Ballet: Passion Beyond Technique at Meany Hall

Written by Victoria Jacobs

(Alonzo King LINES “Dust and Light”
Photo by Marty Sohl)
It is not simply the technical prowess, extensions, and spins, nor the releases, curves, body rolls, and the wildly inventive partnering that make the dancers of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet appear to move in ways no human has moved before. It is their incredible presence, the plainness and heat and joy they’re bringing to the moment. The lines they carve with their arms and legs sliced the expanse of Meany Hall’s auditorium this Thursday evening (November 17); their presence, whether they’re walking, spinning, or leaping into the air, is personal and human. These are artists in their prime, not only as dancers but as whole people, bringing their whole selves into a performance practice.
This weekend’s performance of Dust and Light and Scheherazade, both created in 2009, is a must-see. Dust and Light opens the show with a series of 13 overlapping duets and trios set to Baroque music by Corelli. The dancers, in a range of green briefs and leotards, curve, fall, and extend through surprising juxtapositions for a ballet program—full extensions and a flexed foot, falling partnering, women bearing men’s weight, and a bearded danseur with a short purple skirt and a limitless range (David Harvey) who is one of the most surprising and finest movers seen this year. Meredith Webster, who has Seattle roots, is also remarkable for the unpretentious and elegant figure she cuts on stage; the plainness and honesty of her presence infuse her dancing with calm.
(Alonzo King LINES “Scheherazade”
Photo by RJ Muna)
The highly formal music is a good frame to hold and contrast the LINES dance style, which flows between supreme formality, the emotionality of contraction and undulation, and the scrappiness of raw movement—a full range of human expression, complete with stumbles and falls, that is more illuminating of who the dancers are than their razor sharp technical perfection. Alonzo King says, “When you’re choreographing, you’re excavating. You’re not thinking about right and wrong, but about ‘what can I do?’ There’s light in the body already.”

The second half of the program, Scheherazade, is full of sensuality, fantastic story-telling, violence, and an air of magic, which are complemented by the company’s range of vocabulary. The soundtrack is composed by Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain, who reinterpreted Rimsky-Korsakov’s score on percussion and ancient Persian instruments. Scheherazade is pushed into an otherworldly realm with Robert Rosenwasser’s moving fabric sets and fascinating dripping lights that are so mystical they actually steal the attention away from the dancers for a moment. Rosenwasser restrains the drape and cut of the costumes to reveal and accentuate the dancers’ bodies (“I like to see the body, its breath, its internal nuances,” King says), but occasionally the costumer cuts loose: a peacock-feather tutu, teardrop-shaped striped pants.
Dancer Keelan Whitmore is stunning as a wind-whipping, undulating dervish. The company swirls like a dizzying sandstorm, helping one another to fly, entwining like graces, and sweeping the stage in lines and clumps of bodies. Some company members seem to be more adept at releasing the weight of their heads, which lends ecstasy to their movement, whereas a few dancers are tied to uprightness—a holdover from classical ballet training.
(Alonzo King LINES “Scheherazade”
Photo by RJ Muna)
In the after-show Q&A, King is highly articulate and clearly a master of his medium; he’s exploring all the possibilities of the body, the whole self, to present a company of dancers who are each unique in their dance personalities. He says, “Life trains us…to be the same human being at the barre, onstage, offstage, after the show…to be someone who is plain, just singing their song.” There has long been an idea that dancers should be an “empty vessel” for choreographers to fill with their vision, but King isn’t interested in that. “You want the artist to come with their genius,” he says. “You want to work with a genius.” That embrace of the quirkiness of human possibility and the expanse of personal invention is what makes LINES Ballet unlike any other.