Friday, April 22, 2016

Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Alonzo King LINES Ballet
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
April 21st, 2016

One of the main thematic threads in this spring’s dance season has been the relationship between movement and music. And this prevalence makes sense. The intersection between these two fields is full of rich opportunities, making it ripe for collaboration. But prevalent does not have to mean common. Or typical. Or conventional. And there was nothing common, typical or conventional about the treatment of dance and sound that happened on Thursday evening.

This was a program from one of the great pioneers of collaboration in dance, choreographer Alonzo King. His company, LINES Ballet, presented a penetrating double bill to open their 2016 Spring Season: the return of 2014’s Shostakovich and the world premiere of Sand. While each piece was distinct, they had a shared approach to movement and music. An egalitarian partnership percolated between the two disciplines – no leader, no follower. Both were allowed to be fully realized, each informing the other, but not making demands.

Shostakovich follows a classic multi-chapter structure – full company statements bookending a collection of overlaid vignettes, primarily pas de deuxs. Neither abstract nor narrative, Shostakovich sat somewhere in the middle ground. It definitely was not devoid of meaning or emotion, but it wasn’t a linear or deconstructed story either. This ambiguity served the work well, letting the physicality and score take primary focus.

As the ballet opened, limbs flew everywhere – arms circling, extensions lengthening to the heavens. From these first moments, it was clear that King’s choreography was not joining with Dmitri Shostakovich’s compositions in a traditional, neo-classical sense. The movement wasn’t punctuating or accenting particular aspects of the score, instead, both were expressing similar feelings, similar tones. It was such a compelling (and for me, delightfully unexpected) way in which to examine the deep connection between the physical and the auditory.

Dissonance read in off-center balances and broken extensions, virtuosic chromaticism in frenetic swirling. Suspended double voicing in the melodic line sang in the held lifts and demi-pointe slides across the stage. Much of Shostakovich’s music has an atonality to it, with no recognizable central key, and sometimes even a polytonality, with multiple keys occurring simultaneously. King expressed this aspect of the score with the split-view format that was used in many of the middle sections. Couples would be dancing different duets, but on either side of the stage or one upstage, one downstage. As a viewer, you had to consider and choose where your gaze would land and for how long it would remain in one place. A brilliant comment on atonality and polytonality. YuJin Kim and Brett Conway’s pas de deux in section five was a standout moment in Shostakovich. Dramatic and emotive, this slow, sensitive duet wowed in its nuance and in the dancer’s communication of King’s choreographic material.

While the flexibility is astounding, the repetitive split extensions in this piece wear thin after a while. And the lengthy variation where a soloist carried a long rod of light was a little puzzling. It may have made for some interesting visuals, but its connection to the larger work seemed tenuous. 

King’s newest collaborative project, Sand, is an eight-part dance with original music by Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran (performed live on opening night). The stage brightened to reveal a new organization of the space. The wings had been removed, and a back curtain of shimmery, flexible strands hung from the rafters to the floor. The cast assembled in the center and proceeded to share a powerful movement phrase, but not in unison. It was completed with their own sense of time and their own dynamics.

As Sand continued, the notion of change became very apparent. The company flowed in and out of the space, creating different scenes and donning an assortment of costumes throughout. Here was an exercise in perpetual motion.

LINES Ballet dancer YuJin Kim
Photo: RJ Muna
The technique and strength of this company deserves special mention. They eat up space; have a breathtaking attention to detail and a phenomenal capacity to communicate. Their acuity shines in Sand.

Sand was full of beautiful episodes; places where I didn’t want to think, I just wanted to watch and listen. The men’s duet (danced by Robb Beresford and Shuaib Elhassan) and the men’s quintet near the end of the dance were two such moments. As was the first time we realized that behind the back curtain, there was a platform, on which dancers would occasionally cross from one side to the other. And the juxtaposition of linear patterning against the gauzy backdrop spoke of the dance’s unique architecture.   

Sand had an innovative structure - full cast sequences were interspersed throughout the dance - and varied choreography that again worked in concert with the Lloyd and Moran’s music. Scalic patterns in the saxophone met pulsating isolations in the body; triplet patterns paired with a rippling motion in the hands and arms. From time to time, different intentions were also at play in the music and dance. And it worked. An accented fortissimo soprano note was countered with melty turns and soft developp├ęs; the piano’s rumbling tremolo was crossed with a sweeping circular lift that barely skimmed the surface of the stage. Sand is truly a gorgeous work of collaborative art. But it could have been about ten percent shorter.

  

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