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Passion and Daring From LINES


Few ballet choreographers in our time have devoted themselves more completely than Alonzo King to formalist experiment: classical movement for movement's sake defining new extremes of balance, contortion, partnering risk and the assimilation of nonballetic vocabularies. However, as his Bay-Area based LINES Contemporary Ballet enters its 15th season, King's formalism seems more than ever a means to an end--a delivery system for a deeply personal, unstintingly intense type of movement poetry.

In the great adagios of the Romantic and neo-Romantic repertory, there are moments when a star ballerina and danseur achieve a rare metaphysical rapport and dimension of soul that balletomanes cherish more than the technical fireworks of the art. It is that rapport, that soul which King objectifies in his work--democratically sharing it with everyone in his 14-member ensemble and expressing it with 21st century speed and technical complexity.

New to Southern California, the three 1996 suites on his Friday LINES program at the Alex Theatre in Glendale each achieved the same meditative fervor, the same sense of fleeting communion in a dark world. Created for Dance Theatre of Harlem, "Ground" mixed scores by Arvo Part and Henryk Gorecki in a forceful and sometimes angry dance-requiem. In the first of seven sections, Summer Lee Rhatigan soloed mournfully (at one point brushing away a tear) in front of four fallen men lined up and then piled up behind her like corpses. In the final section, Richard Redlefsen sank to the floor, reaching out for Maurya Kerr as she walked away.

More images of self-sufficient women and unmanned or oddly estranged men punctuated the inner parts of "Ground," with Brian Chung's stillness set against Nora Heiber's hyperactivity at the start of their duet and a furious push-pull opposition established between Rhatigan and Gregory Dawson in theirs. Even a spectacular showcase of group virtuosity ended with the sudden, slow-motion collapse of a single male. You can consider the work an AIDS ballet if you like, but its depiction of male vulnerability and female endurance would remain potent even in a less perilous time than this plague-era.

Just two weeks old, "Klang" used Native American chant and other traditional music by the Four Mountain Nation Singers plus a more conventional score by Miguel Frasconi, with documentary pow-wow rhythms dominating the opening and surging New Age sonorities taking over later on. Focusing on group dynamics, King made physical the contrasts in the accompaniment with playoffs between classical steps and modern dance influences--even Grahamesque torso-contractions no less.

Sometimes bodies melted from one position to another; sometimes successive phrases appeared so deliberately discontinuous, they might have been sequenced by chance. Arms and wrists often stayed weirdly broken, positions on pointe frequently twisted or daringly low to the ground--and just as you began thinking this was another of King's formalist dance-laboratories, someone would despairingly pound fists against a wall, evoking quasi-narrative implications. Coping with diversity may have been the unifying premise: diversity of race, gender and physique within the company, diversity of music, vocabulary and attack within the eight sections of the work--plus, of course, larger societal issues that the word "diversity" currently invokes.

More Frasconi music turned up in "Sacred Text," supplemented by classical music of India, most of it instrumental. However, the crowning pas de deux for Chung and Chiharu Shibata featured the recorded voice of Rita Sahai and choreography intent on making Chung less a full partner than a kind of acolyte, someone in devoted service to Shibata who could be passively led offstage like a pet dog.

Men represented the earthly and women the spiritual in this seven-part ballet-ceremony, and when Kerr slowly rose off the floor and high above the stage in a shower of rose petals at the very end, King's fearsomely intricate modernism seemed just the newest expression of the same world view that created the ever-haunting sylphides, swans, dryads and Wilis of the 19th century.

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