Act I of Alonzo King LINES Ballet’s Triangle of Squinches plays out in front of a backdrop of several hundred silvered bungee cords, stretched perpendicular to the Novellus Theater stage floor so that they form a brilliantine thicket through which dancers will emerge, and retreat. The dancers will pluck the cords like harp strings, lean in to, ascend and descend them. The bungees are supply lines in their own right for this small but sturdy army of dancers who are the very embodiment of the excellence that can spring even from the 21st Century culture we often work very hard to distance ourselves from.
King is the diametrical opposite of your garden variety artistic director who ritualistically follows the formulas of his antecedents: An African-American artist who waded with his family in the thermal waters of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, King chose to dance ballet and tailor its rudiments to his inspired needs for self-expression, and some of those needs betray an atavistic pull toward solidarity. It took time to chase the thread of his own instincts to achieve an ethos of collaboration with musicians such as Mickey Hart, Pharaoh Sanders, and Zakir Hussain. His path took a detour off the Yellow Brick Road leading skippingly toward wizardry. Instead he located the agony and ecstasy of the heart in an oasis of authenticity, peopled by artists of the same persuasion as King. These are dancers with bodies that have emerged out of a broth of naturalism, where the mind is not an obstacle to mining artistic self-confidence, but an integral extrusion tool.
It’s as if the dancers in this company birth their own best exponents, and of the women, Courtney Henry, a recent addition, is a fine example. All sinew and sculpted muscle, because she is tall, there is the temptation to think of her as athletic or a super-soaker of a dancer, but that would be to fall for a trompe d’oeil. While she has the strength and tenacity of an Olympic athlete, there is an artisanal quality to her dancing that beckons you to hear and see the vibrational symmetry she brings to the plaintive string melody that accompanies her solo in the second movement of Act I. It is tempting to list the dancers one by one to detail what sizzles in the zarzuela each brings to the feast. Suffice it to say that Carolyn Rocher tenders slow, deliberate technique, most evident in her plush developpés; Kara Wilkes unpacks a trousseau of crisply starched technique heirlooms, each an artifact of embroidered homespun. In this setting, they wax classical, and in a complementary way, Yu Jin Kim effortlessly wields the whisk of ballet technique to whip up a frothy embellishment for their intertwined presentation.
At the point at which each woman dancer has a sound assigned to her, an engine starting up, a ringing bell, sounds of every day life that we normally hardly notice as they mark a specific hour, we see that the cylindrical turns, arms in opposition, and floor squinches, are stamped with some element of our collective subliminal experience. These are filtered through the elastic boundaries of the bungees. Two men venture into the bungees, burrowing into the sumptuous nest of contradictions that invite one man to lean his head into the hollow between the arm and the breast of the other.
In Act II, a dun-colored hinged assembly of tongue and groove corrugated cardboard assumes the shape of a citadel—at least for the moment. The indomitable, but gentle giant of a dancer, Keelan Whitmore is tasked with scaling the wall, vertically and horizontally Mickey Hart’s music and the women are past containment in this segment, as Whitmore eventually reaches upper and outer limits of the teetering obstacle, until makes a conquest of the final panels. Arms embrace him, bells ring, light goes into a slow diminuendo, the wall reveals its brilliantly-engineered innards as it turns into a traveling twist-o-gram, having been the silent witness to the hieroglyphs of the sound and furies of movement.
If there is any deficit in this otherwise volcanic company, it is the public image of it as a precious New Age, more-sensitive-than-thou, mystic phenomenon, accessible only to those annointed with transcendental sensibilities. On the contrary, this is a company grounded in the material reality of nature and naturalism. Its sublime effort to find and present the truth in art, step over the hype and faddism which devalues its competitors, renders it bracingly authentic and potentially places it on the same wavelength of the broadest spectrum of the population.
Alonzo King LINES Ballet will present Program 2, Migration and Scheherazade from April 18-22, 2012 at the Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. For ticket information, call 415 863-3040.
Toba Singer, author of “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), was Senior Program Director of the Art and Music Center of the San Francisco Public Library and its dance selector until her retirement in 2010. Raised in The Bronx, she graduated from New York City’s School of Performing Arts with a major in Drama, the University of Massachusetts with a BA in History; and the University of Maryland with an MLS. Since high school, Singer has been actively engaged in a broad range of pro-labor, social, and political campaigns. She has lived, worked, organized and written in Baltimore, Boston, The Bronx, Cambridge, Charleston, West Virginia, Jersey City, Richmond, Virginia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., working in steel mills, chemical refineries, garment shops and as an airlines worker; also editing, teaching and as an office worker. Singer has contributed articles to the “Charleston Gazette,” “San Francisco Chronicle,” “Dance Magazine,” “Dance Europe,” “City Paper,” “Provincetown Advocate,” “Voice of Dance,” CriticalDance.com, “InDance,” and “Dance Source Houston.”
Singer returned to the studio to study ballet after a 25-year absence, and in 2001, was invited to become a founding member of the board of Robert Moses’ KIN dance company. Singer studied ballet with Svetlana Afanasieva, Nina Anderson, Perry Brunson, Richard Gibson, Zory Karah, Celine Keller, Charles McGraw, Francoise Martinet, Augusta Moore, E. Virginia Williams, and Kahz Zmuda; and Modern Dance with Cora Cahan, Jane Dudley, Nancy Lang, Donald McKayle, Gertrude Shurr, and Zenaide Trigg. Her son James Gotesky dances with Houston Ballet. Singer lives in Oakland, California, with her husband Jim Gotesky.