Sunday, February 7, 2010

Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Alonzo King’s dances don’t depict simple stories. In fact, there was nothing simple about his LINES Ballet performance on Saturday at the Wisconsin Union Theater. King built a rich detailed movement vocabulary brought forth by ten exquisite dancers in the two full-company works presented.

A brief hopeful solo opened the first piece, Signs and Wonders, originally created in 1995. The lone dancer rippled his spine and with swirling gestures moved as if he had no skeleton. Yet as others joined energetically fusing the inventive loose contemporary arm gestures with the rigid torso and legs of classical ballet, the piece moved in no clear direction. Throughout the nine sections, an intriguing style of physical juxtaposition emerged and the dancers took this style with ease. Able to create an awkward tension in their bodies through distorted shapes, they flexed their feet, angled their arms, held parallel leg positions and moved through impossible lifting sequences, all with the fluidity and obvious strong training of classical ballet. But the choreographic lack of repetition and absence of any sense of relationship between or among the dancers in this piece, made it difficult for the eye to latch on to any one thing in particular. Each section seemed a random grouping of miscellaneous energetic dance movement, albeit executed with detail and cleanliness.

When visual relief from the busy frenetic feeling finally came via a liquid duet (the program did not specify who danced this duet), disappointingly the woman moved from one linear pose to another being manipulated and lifted by a male partner who displayed as much conviction as moving a piece of furniture. He literally just stood behind her, walking from place to place, strictly the facilitator of her balletic balances.

To King's credit, the piece did not last too long, and although beautifully danced, the ending brought a feeling of relief. This may have been in part due to the irritatingly high sound system volume which made it uncomfortable to listen to the traditional African music soundtrack.

King redeemed his choreographic reputation in the second piece, Dust and Light. This recent piece, made in 2009, is a collaboration of sorts partnering dance with the intricate angelic Baroque music of Arcangelo Corelli and Francis Poulenc, and the edgy transformative lighting and stage design by Axel Morgenthaler. Together these elements created an inviting and carefully crafted world, both eerie and beautiful at the same time. Again a series of short sections (15 here), King found a way to fuse it all together as dancers repeatedly walked crouched over in a squat en pointe, or one by one slowly dragged themselves across the stage like injured gazelles sometimes folding one leg in at a time into a ball, then hurling themselves splayed out on their stomachs.

The dance evolved with each fall being restored by a seamless lift, an idea skillfully echoed in Morgenthaler's backdrop of a slowly descending black curtain which unnoticeably rises again. In a breathtaking duet section danced by Corey Scott-Gilbert and either Laurel Keen or Caroline Rocher (again, the program was unclear) the two traded lifts, promenading in off-balance poses, manipulating each other by the head then by the shoulders, sliding and shifting like mercury over each others backs. And later in a male pairing of Brett Conway and Scott-Gilbert again, the two oscillated and lifted with a rare combination of grace and power, supporting each other through a fusion of traditional ballet partnering and sinuous grappling. Staying connected like playful Siamese twins, their silver Romanesque-type pleated skirts gave this section a stylish modern gladiator feeling.

In a radiant surprise ending, at last a relationship between all of the dancers became evident. The full company celestially emerged from the wings, rising and falling together like liquid silver in a shocking bright white light. Repeating a pattern of sinuous floorwork, they took angelic departures one by one until a lone dancer rose and spun in attitude into the dark.

If a theatrical structure or theme emerged in this evening, it was that King keeps his duets intimate—dancers in close proximity to each other-- rarely creating any tension across the stage space. By contrast, his trio groupings often appeared as three random dancers whose only relationship was that they shared the same stage space. Throughout Dust and Light, brief trios of disconnect mixed with a series of close-proximity duets punctuated by minimal solos and duets that appeared downstage of the action. Unlike Signs and Wonders, in this inspired dance King's mesmerizing movement invention effectively crafted an exceptional ethereal world.

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