Thirty Years of Lines’ Contemporary Ballet

5 May

With an enthusiastic audience at the final Sunday matinee April 28 Lines’ Contemporary Ballet danced indications of subtle shifts in Alonzo King’s choreography, an impetus possibly due to the commission for the Hubbard Street Dance Theater which debuted the work at Zellerbach Hall in February.

Many things, however, remain constant in this dozen dancer ensemble, a steadfast trait being the dancers’ eloquence and what superb instruments King has shaped them for his choreographic vision.  Works dating from 1994, 2005, 2010 plus this season’s premiere, Collaborations with Edgar Meyer, demonstrates part of that evolution.

Before comments on the dances, let me say the program itself celebrated King’s longevity, not only with elegant advertising, which probably covered the cost of the letter-size doubled 50 pages of text plus advertising and R. J. Muna’s spectacular photography. Following the current program and roster of dancers photographed by Quinn Wharton, there was a list of ballets created from 1982, an enumeration of King awards, dancers and guest artists over thirty years, collaborators, comments by the dancers and Pam Hagen, the third member of the founding trio, the King Training programs, board members, staff and donors, of course. The design was credited to Nancy Bertossa who moved over last year from ODC to head the Lines’ Marketing Division.  It’s a handsome record.  If space had permitted, dates and specifics might have been added to the Isadora Duncan Dance Award citation.  It also would have been  nice to acknowledge Lines’  president, Dennis Mullen, who was on board with Pam Hagen when the initial fiscal budget moved from $500 to $1.2 million.  Mullen now chairs the Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee.

To George Frederic Handel music, work unspecified, King utilized the extended phrases of organ music to move his dancers horizontally.  In other works diagonal or upstage entrances tend to introduce the dancers.  Here it seemed they skittered to a tone or pitch held by the organ.  The body rolls, pumping, circling or flaying arm use strangely complimented music large enough  in sound and scale to accommodate the highly individualistic emphasis based on classic ballet vocabulary.  I found myself intrigued and engaged.

I remember the stretch of Kara Wilkes, torso in profile, partnered by David Harvey, her line from ear through shoulders, hip and knee ending in point as she was absorbe in a rendering of the sonorous organ music sounds.  Earlier, Ashley Jackson introducing the piece, arms flexing, but also pausing in a motion driven arabesque, poised on her pointe in momentary infinity.  With such balance the Rose Adagio would be a breeze.

King has acquired a remarkably agile exponent in Ricardo Zayas, a movement style which is elemental, not simply well trained and flexible. Stripped to the waist, his muscles and bones at peak movement were mesmerizing to regard.  In a similar vein, Yujin Kim’s final variation demonstrated the slender Korean incorporates her culture’s rhythmic response, the slight flexing of her shoulders as she began to dance.

The excerpt from The Writing Ground, premiered by the Monte Carlo Ballet in 2010 for the Ballets Russes Centenary and commissioned by  artistic director Jean-Christophe Maillot,  gave Meredith Webster an extended solo with four men as support. Portraying a woman in extremis, the men attentive, supporting, waiting for her to move, Webster struggled handsomely, lurching, collapsing, staggering, paralyzed.  Sinister, it also displayed a mastery of controlled collapse, one of the more ultimate examples of what the King training can accomplish for a dancer.  Performed to The Tsok Offering by Jean-Phillipe Rykiel and Larna Gyurme, it was easy connecting the imagery to contemporary horrors.  Mid-way a friend remarked to me “epilepsy.”

This season’s collaboration with Edgar Meyer was titled just that.  The musician/composer was seconded by Gabriel Cabezas on cello and Robert Moose on the violin.  As background,  Jim Doyle created vertical streams of water, starting with slender double strands, gradually increasing to six or eight before sheets, sporadic and then steady, like daubs of glistening paint wielded by a master Asian calligrapher.

While some musical sections were plucked strings, others hinted at melody, particular in a pas de deux for Meredith Webster and David Harvey.  Titled 7 First Impressions, it seemed to try connecting with the sweet tunes of Stephen Foster.  In section 5, Cards, Kara Wilkes and David Harvey appeared guided by a hing of the sonata allegro form, one of Western symphonic music’s cornerstones. And in VI, Pas Solo, Men to Trio Movement 3, there actually were sections where three men executed the same movement in a line, and something similar occurred with four women.  For the Finale, Trio 88, Movement 4, the ensemble approximated a semblance of a conventional formation.

While highly individualistic movement was clearly present, the formations of company ensemble were clear, if absent the single line repetition like Balanchine’s opening in Symphony in Three Movements. It seems King’s three decades of accomplishments are allowing him to entertain such conventions without sacrificing his individualistic approach.  It’s a welcome development.

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