Alonzo King’s Ballet at the Joyce
BY VALERIE GLADSTONE
When Alonzo King established LINES Ballet in 1982 in San Francisco, few believed he could maintain a new company in the city where the San Francisco Ballet had long captured the area’s ballet audience. Moreover, King did not conform to the typical ballet artistic director—he grew up in Santa Barbara in a distinguished family of movers and shakers in the African American community, trained at both the school of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and American Ballet Theater and performed with Dance Theater of Harlem. Even more unlikely, he wanted to start his venture on the West rather than the East Coast.
Quickly, he proved all the doubters wrong.
Today, King is one of the top choreographers in classical contemporary dance, with a wide-ranging repertory that includes collaborations with numerous international composers, musicians and visual artists, including China’s Shaolin monks, actor Danny Glover and jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Plus, the company has an enviable tour schedule and a vibrant school.
It has been featured at the Venice Biennale, the Edinburgh Festival, Montpellier Danse and the Holland Dance Festival, and King has been commissioned by the Swedish Royal Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, The Joffrey Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Hong Kong Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theatre, among others.
Asked the secret of his success, King says, “I try to choreograph beautiful works that resonate with universal truths.”
In LINES Ballet’s upcoming season at The Joyce Theater May 8-13, King’s choreographic gifts and widely heralded dancers will be on display in a program including Scheherazade, commissioned by the Monaco Dance Forum to inaugurate the centenary of the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo and set to a new score by tabla master Zakir Hussain after Rimsky-Korsakov, and Resin, an exploration of Sephardic music with songs and field recordings from Yemen, Turkey, Morocco and Spain.
A true scholar of the world’s cultures and music, King mines relationships between diverse groups of people, bringing them subtly to light in works like those that will be presented at The Joyce Theater. The character of Scheherazade particularly fascinated him. He explains that she had to convince the ruler not to kill her and save her sisters by healing him with her voice.
“It wasn’t simply her stories,” he says, “but her voice. It transported him. Your voice is the key to who you are. I had to show this through movement, how her lovingness transformed him. In a sense, she represents the divine mother.”
While he likes the Rimsky-Korsakov score, he also thrives on working with living composers, and so asked Hussain for a new score. “It’s a partnership when I collaborate with a composer, just as choreographing is a partnership with my dancers. Artists are givers. They inspire me,” King explains.
Dancer David Harvey joined LINES five years ago. “Alonzo sees endless possibilities in dance and his dancers,” he says. “It makes it challenging but also rewarding—you never reach the point where you are finished.
“He’s never abandoned ballet; he’s committed to fulfilling its potential. He’s a purist in the best sense—no flash, no glitter, just honest and courageous dance.”
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