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The Scarlet & Black

Alonzo King’s ballet breaks LINES

In his second more recent piece, Alonzo King moved out of his strict adherence to en pointe female dancers, making for freer, more energetic movements. - Courtney Moore
It began with maybe the longest legs I’ve ever seen, followed by the most flexible man I’ve ever seen up close—in a mesh tank top. However, what left audience members stunned after Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet on Wednesday night had little to do with its pseudo American Apparel costuming—and it wasn’t all about dancer Corey Scott-Gilbert’s legs, either.
Haling from the ballet Mecca of San Francisco, LINES visited Grinnell as one of the last stops on their domestic tour. LINES represented the dance element of Grinnell’s Committee for Public Event’s season, which brought Béla Fleck and the St. Lawrence String Quartet to the college last semester.

The committee brings in a ballet company every other year, but this year was marked by its shift not just to a domestic—verses Russian—company, but also by the company’s contemporary nature.

LINES delivered with a two-part show that broke as many classical forms as it honored. Dancers struck perfectly achieved arabesques and then literally turned them on their heads in lift combinations which challenged gender roles and the limits of the physical body.
The first work, Signs and Wonders, featured African a capella accompaniment and was set in 1995 for the Dance Theater of Harlem. Beginning with a short solo by the leggy Scott-Gilbert, much of the piece was supported by the sounds of children’s voices. The dancers moved in much the way children sing to themselves, with a kind of stunning inhibition and personal, physical unabashed enjoyment.

In contrast, as the piece developed, the voices themselves matured, and the overall tone took on a layered complexity. A Pas de Deux between Caroline Rocher and Ricardo Zayas broke entirely from the stiffness of classic ballet lines and leaned instead towards the potent sexuality of a tango—complete with hip isolations and the push-pull sharing of force between the dancers. Unlike a tango, however, Rocher’s eyes never met Zayas’. LINES’ onstage twosomes were in no way limited to hetero-normative.
The Paux de Deux was followed by a conceptually heavy and physically stunning duet between Keelan Whitmore and David Harvey. Here Whitmore played the puppeteer directing Harvey first by his head, then by an invisible set of strings, as he writhed with deceivingly superb control across the low light of the stage.
Sings and Wonders was the company’s older piece and arguably weightier of the two as regards cultural context. Fifteen years later, and presented as a compilation as opposed a stand-alone work, much of that influence was no longer explicit—perhaps at some cost to the audience’s connection to the piece. Additionally, King’s decision to keep his female dancers en pointe, despite the highly modern and physically challenging nature of the piece was, perhaps, questionable. The company’s female dancers, albeit equally lithe, seemed ham-tied next to their male counterparts. Sings called for some extremely fast, staccato footwork, which read forced when the dancers were, well, forced to perform it on the flats of their tractionless pointe shoes.

Lest the non-traditional music and variously gendered partnerings speak too loudly, make no mistake: this is still ballet. The dancers were impressively muscled, but still rail thin and the female choreography still felt most comfortable in partnered, lift-centered, work.

Yes, LINES is still very much a ballet company, but more than that, it’s boy ballet. King makes full and impressive use of an ensemble composed, perhaps intentionally, of a mere four women, to its six men.

Even so, if the boys looked good in King’s earlier work, Signs and Wonders—where the movements were characterized by a yawn-stretch quality of luxurious freedom that left the girls looking like powerfully winged flamingos unable to take flight—everyone looked good in his more recent, classically accompanied, piece Dust and Light.
Dust and Light demonstrated an advancement in King’s ability to speak directly to his audience, no matter the external context. If the few male-to-male partnerings in Signs were remarkable, they were status quo when set against Dust and Light’s female pair—who lifted each other time and time again without so much as a blink—not to mention the men in skirts.

The company was costumed in either ephemeral, gauzy white or flashy metallic, mirroring the alternatively ethereal choral to twangy, classical harpsichord accompaniment. And while all the ladies sported classic—if elegantly simple—dresses, half the hearty portion of the male ensemble was costumed in flouncy minis. At one point a shorter man-in-skirt partnered the astonishingly tall, gold hot-panted, Scott-Gilbert in a brilliant, effortless continuation of a classic ballet partner’s lift/turn assist role.
Dust and Light was also, arguably, more choreographically consistent as well as more complex in its use of light—which occasionally made the dancers appear to move in a sort of void. The dancers, too, seemed more inclined to this newer piece and threw themselves to its sometimes fiercely quick choreography with reckless—well, artfully reckless—abandon.

Lacking the gendered roles and strict forms, but none of the sheer height and momentary weightlessness of leap, associated with classical ballet, LINES brought some of us to tears with no story line at all.

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