BY STAV ZIV
Migration and Scheherazade are either perfect complements or unlikely and unfortunate bedfellows. In the second program of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet’s Spring Season, they showcased both the best of the company and its occasional downfalls.
Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet specializes in a certain brand of contemporary dancing. It is no-holds-barred ballet; a type of performance that prompts a visceral experience as physicality overflows from the stage and reverberates around the auditorium. I have watched LINES from the edge of my seat, breath held, torn outside of time and space. Last night, though, I occasionally felt just out of the choreography’s reach, despite my third row perch.
The LINES brand is not cold or academic, nor is it literal or narrative. Alonzo King constructs atmospheres and moods whose power is compounded by the overwhelming ability of his company. There is a beautiful confluence of control and abandon that separates LINES dancers from most of their colleagues—technique, strength, and flexibility that defy expectations paired with a natural ease of motion, intelligent artistry, and passionate execution. King’s dancers excel at movement and have mastered the stillnesses that punctuate their performances and take the breath away.
Migration, a study of creatures of flight, marked an understated side of King I’ve rarely seen before. Thoughtful and compelling, the piece struck a delicate balance between the awkward idiosyncrasies of a bird’s mannerisms and the majesty of its flight. A particular relationship between the head, shoulders, and arms portrayed a more authentic birdlike quality than most productions of Swan Lake can muster. Stepping onto forced arch, knees quaky and limbs askew, the dancers summoned images of fragility. The exhilarating momentum of multiple turns captured moments of flight and freedom.
Full cast scenes transported me to a patch of sky suspended between layers of clouds. Sunlight streamed in to tint the space with gold as a flock of dancers caught gusts of wind that moved them as one from corner to corner. A pas de deux by Meredith Webster and Zack Tang (named by Dance Magazine as one of its “25 to Watch” in 2012—see list here) highlighted the artistry that lies beneath and elevates virtuosity.
Following a brief intermission, LINES descended from the clouds for Scheherazade, a 21st century re-imagining of the Ballets Russes’ piece that scandalized Parisian audiences in 1910—its premise: a Persian queen’s orgy with her male slaves while the Sultan is off hunting (he murders all involved when he returns to find he’s been betrayed). As is King’s norm, this interpretation steers clear of concrete storylines and aims for the abstract.
When I saw King’s Scheherazade last fall, I found it seriously lacking coherence and purpose (read my review of that performance in The Stanford Daily here). On second viewing, I could again see its redeeming moments and found even more that resonated with the piece’s source material.
An elegantly composed group section had the dancers shifting formations from one line to two parallel columns, moving through diagonals, and forming an “L” as though tracing the corner of the stage. Individual dancers broke out of the ensemble to counter their precision and organized chaos with bursts of energy.
But ultimately, the words ‘indulgent’ and ‘incoherent’ resurfaced, particularly in relation to a pas de deux between David Harvey and Kara Wilkes. A polished piece of choreography performed by two remarkable dancers, it seemed to have been misplaced and dropped midway through Scheherazade, unrelated to the rest of the work.
Standout moments by each and every dancer—impossible balances, astonishing turns, poignant and dynamic phrasing—proved that LINES has truly exceptional artists in its midst. When King’s choreography is at its best, the two elements merge to create explosive performances. I look forward to the next time I find myself nearly falling off my seat, caught in the intersection.
Stav Ziv (’11, History / minor in Dance) is the Executive Editor for the Stanford Arts Review and the Arts in Student Life Coordinator at the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SiCa). A bunhead at heart, her writing can be found in Dance Magazine, Voice of Dance, the Stanford Daily’s Intermission, and Stanford Lively Arts Magazine.