Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Alonzo King's LINES Ballet-Stern Grove Festival

Titles inform perception and provide insight in the performing arts. They can be a literal representation of the artist’s intent or an ironic commentary on their work. But, whichever role titles fill, their significance cannot be ignored. LINES Ballet’s performance at San Francisco’s Stern Grove Festival demonstrated that sometimes titles work and sometimes they don’t. Two well-chosen titles enhanced Artistic Director Alonzo King’s choreography, and one poorly chosen title revealed what was lacking.

Migration: The Hierarchical Migration of Birds and Mammals was missing its key element. For the word migration to appear twice in the title and then be absent in the piece was disappointing. To be fair, King definitely had the animal- and bird-like qualities well defined in his choreography. The performers turned into salamanders, birds, owls and elephants through inventive movement. But any sense of migration was nowhere to be found. The word implies a journey to somewhere new. It is a horizontal relationship where entities are mobile; traveling and exploring. What King provided was a vertical structure: evolution and development. Every dancer began by moving cautiously; small; contained. Throughout the six-part piece, the movements of each individual were built and expanded. By the end, they were turning with abandon and leaping through the air in flight. Each was evolving, not migrating. They were achieving new movements from within, not outwardly experiencing new realities in the space.

Pas de deux, the second piece, had the simplest, yet truest description. This world premiere for guest artists Muriel Maffre and Prince Credell embodied its title: a dance for two people. Traditionally, pas de deuxs are representations of relationships whether romantic, sensual, contentious or even violent. But, the words do not mean that at all, that meaning has been imposed upon them. Rather, they simply translate as a dance of two, which is what King created. Yes, there was intricate partnering and a striking visual contrast of the much-taller Maffre (especially when she was on pointe) juxtaposed with Credell. However, the joy in the piece was the dance of two; no sub-text, no hidden meaning, just bodies working together in space. King’s final piece delivered on its sexy, exotic title, The Moroccan Project. From the undulating upper-body movements to the lush orange and gold costuming to the entrances and exits; everything was evocative. In particular, Brett Conway’s rond de jambe en l’air and Corey Scott-Gilbert’s sinewy developpés oozed with seduction.

Some suggest that titles are peripheral elements of dancemaking because they are not directly involved with the choreography and staging. However, it is crucial to remember that the presentation of dance encompasses everything connected with the piece, including the title. It is the first connection that the audience makes with the work. It sets up expectations, understanding, questions and curiosity. Titles matter to dance.

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