This past Saturday night, thousands of audience goers packed the Segerstrom Center for the Arts to see Alonzo King LINES Ballet showcase spanning 24 years of highlighted repertoire. Mostly duets and trios, Artistic Director & Co-Founder, Alonzo King, alongside Executive Director/Creative Director & Co-Founder, Robert Rosenwasser, have re-cast these memorable pieces on an ensemble of twelve performers for the anticipated evening. Split into six distinctive segments, the evening was full of joyful and heartfelt moments from King’s long spanning career as an inventive choreographer redefining what ballet has been and could be. LINES’ dedication to accessible dance for all ages has proven not only beneficial, but vital to the care of ballet as an art form and celebrating King’s visions through the years was nothing short of cathartic.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet - Dancers Shuaib Elhassan and Madeline DeVries - Photo © RJ Muna

Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Dancers Shuaib Elhassan and Madeline DeVries – Photo © RJ Muna.

Pieces from Dust and Light opened the show, taking ten different segments from its original World Premiere at YBCA in San Francisco in 2009. With performers Madeline Devries, Lorris Eichinger, Ilaria Guerra, Theo Duff-Grant, Maël Amatoul, Maya Harr, Josh Francique, Shuaib Elhassan, Marusya Madubuko, Adji Cissoko, and Tatum Quiñónez the piece seemed to mimic the juxtaposition of solid vs. untenable matter. With dancers creeping in and out of stage left and right, their floorwork almost imitated that ethereal moment of dust bunnies being swept by the opening of a flood lit door or air blowing in from a window. With silvery pleated skirts and translucent leotards in chiffon like material, costume designs by Robert Rosenwasser certainly added to both the structure and flowy state of the choreography. The female dancers, heavily supported by their male duet counterparts, had broken and fragile gestures as they continuously found their grounding from one movement to the next. The men moved with the power and stamina of someone with a story; with almost a Balanchine technique, their arms were led by the elbows and wrists in a romantic pattern of sweeps from the floor up. With seamless entrances and exits, it was impossible to take your eyes off each and every dancer. Dust and Light was the perfect context to open with, especially those who were unfamiliar with LINES and King’s work.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet - Dancer - Josh Francique - Photo © RJ Muna

Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Dancer – Josh Francique – Photo © RJ Muna.

Following the Subtle Current Upstream made its world premiere at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, City Center, in New York of 2000. Unlike Dust and Light, this section was very much dictated by the music of Miriam Makeba, for the pas de deux, and Zakir Hussain, for the finale. Dancers Madubuko and Eichenger were dressed in form fitting pale green-yellow leotards and pants with circular pieces jutting out from the hips and upper legs giving them an out of world appearance and feel. The movement felt frustrating, with motifs punching the air, and swooping gestures of hands near the stomach with a sense of distress and hopelessness. But the real flair of the piece came with the finale, with dancers paying homage to African dance technique by throwing their head and bodies back with roundabout arms, and only moving when being prompted by the drum beats’ change in rhythm. It is this little nod to cultural tradition that makes pieces like this stand out on their own. With lots of choreography pulling, pushing, and dragging, there were also sections that almost looked improvised as each performer was moving individually as an ensemble. The piece ended with a single spotlight coming down from the rafters on Francique before a total black out. While this felt odd and out of place, I remembered that we were seeing parts of a whole.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet - Photo by Jamie Lyons

Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Photo by Jamie Lyons.

Child of Earth and Sky, performed by Madeline DeVries, was performed hair down, flat ballet shoes, in a sparkly mini dress by Robert Rosenwasser, that shimmered all the way to the very back of the theater. While technically, this performance was perfection, its “watch me watch me” choreography was whimsical and full of melancholy states of yesteryear. With music by  Jason Moran, and Gregory Porter, we moved into Suite Etta performed by Cissoko and Elhassan. The pas de deux, like other segments from the evening, took direction from the jazzy queen of soul herself, Etta James, as she riffed in tandem to the sultry and rhythmic pas de deux. Cissoko in particular had a heart wrenching quality to her performance that made you feel anything and everything she might be going through; a true balletic performance where we forgot she was a ballerina and felt for her as a woman. This was not the last time Cissoko would pull on the audience’s heart strings.

Unfortunately, Resin and the men’s quintet in Writing Ground did not bring the soul or energetic passion I was hoping would close the show. With much of the performance set to music by Jodi Saval, Lama Gyurme, and Jean-Philippe Rykel, the Bhutanese music and deep tenor voices provided an ancient undertone. However, with King’s fresh and inventive movement, the performance felt out of place, with the choreography neither adding nor improving the elevated spirit of the piece. Writing Ground’s unison pieces were not in sync, thus producing an almost cheapened version on technically profound movers. With the men’s quintet, performed by Amatoul, Duff-Grant, Eichinger, Elhassan, and Francique, the dancers moved in separate choreographed patterns but it felt chaotic, unrehearsed, and in need of a pallet cleanser. One by one, a single spotlight showed from above as the men walked upstage before retreating back to the ensemble as whole. Each man repeated this offering and ritualistic movement several times before Cissoko entered the space for the Quintet Finale.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet - Dancer Adji Cissoko - Photo © RJ Muna

Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Dancer Adji Cissoko – Photo © RJ Muna.

By far the most emotional piece, Cissoko wore a tattered nude mini dress, as she was passed gently from one man to the next. While she fought, jerked her head back and forth, and struggled to find stabilization, she was always manipulated through the space with gentility and tenderness. What seemed to be a very distinct character, was also left vague for interpretation, involving the audience in more ways than one. Her tender movements suggested she was manipulated by something as powerful as a God, or something as subtle as internal doubt and dismay. With arms often reaching through the air, it was hard to not return the sentiment, grab her hands, and offer the help she so desperately seemed to need. A beautiful performance by a beautiful performer; Cissoko’s ability to combine life’s most complex emotion through the art of dance is what ballet needs in American rooted companies today.

Spectators, patrons, and art enthusiasts alike celebrated King’s deeply embedded cultural traditions and diversity on the stage with mid-performance clapping, verbal exclamations of “wow” and “beautiful” throughout the evening. With a fresh perspective on what ballet could be, LINES Ballet seems to always challenge the traditional with the reformative, and what better way to figure out where we’re going, by looking at where we’ve been.

To learn more about Alonzo King LINES Ballet, please visit their website.

To learn more about the 2023/2024 season at The Segerstrom Center for the Arts, please visit their website.

Written by Grace Courvoisier for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Dancer Michael Montgomery photo by RJ Muna.