Alonzo King LINES Ballet takes its audience to a different world
A Vancouver International Dance Festival presentation. At the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Friday, March 2. No remaining performances
Ballet is so often set to either classical music or new electroacoustic scores that when it’s created around nonwestern sounds the experience feels odd and strikingly different. Exotic sounds, combined with dazzling dancers and a few surreal staging tricks, made for an occasionally magical appearance by Alonzo King LINES Ballet.
San Francisco choreographer King is known for scouring the world for his music, and for this Vancouver International Dance Festival show the choices were rare archival Sephardic field recordings, for the work Resin, and a Persian reinterpretation of Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov for Scheherazade.
Resin featured a spare score with everything from synagogue readings to a children’s song, all pulled from the Sephardic diaspora scattered from Turkey to Yemen. The piece opened with the haunting image of a man trapped in a cylinder of spotlit silk, his hands pushing at the sides. From there, the themes of the exiled people’s sorrow and strength played out in flowing duets, trios, and group work.
King creates movement that is incredibly fluid, loose, and elastic-spined, and yet the virtuosic dancers’ extensions go on for miles. The classical basis is there; legs kick up gracefully, and people pirouette. But there is awkwardness too—flexed feet, convulsing forms, and lurching insect steps. The most striking moments came when spotlit pillars of what looked like sand poured down on moving dancers, like rain—or tears. Resin felt long, with its stoic mood, and the movement sometimes felt disassociated from the sounds. But it inhabited an unearthly, timeless realm all its own.
Scheherazade, based on 1001 Nights, had more sensuality to it. Recognizable bits of Rimski-Korsakov’s score would jump out from tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain’s reinterpretation of it, as King conjured an elaborate, extended duet for the title character (Meredith Webster) and her husband, Shahryar (Paul Knobloch). It was a dreamlike work, with a huge swath of wrinkly silk billowing against the back of the stage. Again, Scheherazade was at its best when conjuring surreal moments: a highlight was the sight of Webster and the impassioned Knobloch bound at the ankles by rope, partnering while a trio of blue-burqa’d figures walked ghostlike in the background.
Despite the fact they look so different from other ballets, however, Resin and Scheherazade were surprisingly similar in their style and vocabulary. One oft-repeated phrase in both works found the women pushing their arms straight up in the air and kicking one leg high for an arabesquelike hold.
Perhaps the problem was simply one of programming: these are two meditative works, at over 40 minutes each. King’s pieces take you to another world, and his faraway music and racially diverse dancers create a kind of offbeat utopia. But even when you’re travelling to fascinating places, there comes a time when you are ready to go home.