Glorya Kaufman’s “DANCE at the Music Center” presented the last in a series of “Dance at Dusk” performances for 2021 on the Jerry Moss Plaza, (July 14 through July 18).
After an eight-year absence from the Music Center stage, Founder, Artistic Director and Choreographer, Alonzo King with Robert Rosenwasser, Founder, Executive Director, and Designer have brought back their fierce and brilliant LINES Ballet. King and Rosenwasser have shaped the aesthetic and artistic direction of the Company and are again exciting audiences by their ability to blend artistry with soul and technique. This program was a mix of unique pieces from King’s works spanning the years 2007 through 2021. Added to this mix, was the vivacious Southern California native and principal dancer of the NYC Ballet, Tiler Peck, with her stunning partner, Roman Mejia, also from NYCB and descendant of the brilliant Mejia dance family.
The company’s blend of ethnicities, technical prowess, intoxicating musical choices and captivating art direction and costumes combined the ethereal with the powerful, creating a company of astounding artists.
The evening began with Personal Element. The music by jazz pianist and composer, Jason Moran, began with an amalgam of Monk-style Jazz motifs and a haunting classical jazz theme. King’s piece was originally commissioned for the Vail Dance Festival (August 3, 2019) blending Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet with The New York City Ballet. The piece appeared this night as almost a warmup for both dancers and audience, getting to know each off balance molding movement and surprise twist, that told the audience not to get too comfortable… the implication that this journey may change you forever.
This piece introduced eight stunning dancers out of 12 in the company. To start, taking center stage was Ilaria Guerra, and flanking her was Adji Cissoko, Madeline DeVries, Lorris Eichinger, James Gowan, Maya Harr, Alvaro Montelongo and Michael Montgomery. All were unique, all soloist in their own right, with each expressing their own vastly different musical heartbeat and interpretation. And through the cacophony of movement, they miraculously all converged as one. They first merged into couples and then proceeded to sculpture off-kilter versions of a Greek Chorus. The bodies unapologetically moved from legato to precise razor sharp storms of action. The sensuality was subtle. Women’s long-legged extensions and supple bodies appeared to move beyond their arched pointe shoes. The men’s powerful frames were vessels of sudden playfulness as though attacking the air. All appeared to reach beyond the proscenium into another universe.
Then Ashley Mayeux, transplant from Broadway’s “Aida” and the Alvin Ailey Company, tore our hearts out with Writing Ground to the Traditional “Over My Head” sung by inimitable Kathleen Battle. Over my head, I hear the music in the air. As the lyrics floated through the night Mayeux’s emotional gift seemed to pull us in and embrace us with her moving interpretation that touched the soul after all those months of separation from each other and the living theatre.
Swift Arrow changed the pace with the plucky Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia’s speedy then instantaneously controlled performance. Peck, a staple of NYC Ballet, admirably moved out of her comfort zone reaching out beyond her norm to work with King, giving over to Mejia, who sustained breath and breadth with his strong spirit of connection. He delighted the audience and proved he was not a novice but artistically beyond his years…artistry we hope to see more of in the coming years. Jason Moran changed the musical genre to a contemporary and mechanical sound. It seemed to inspire an off-kilter foreplay of circular designs and counters with Mejia always there no matter where Peck’s leaps and turns took her and ended with an intimate and gentle push against his body and a walk off in the balmy summer eve.
The Radius of Convergence gave us a taste of the potent and fierce work of Eichinger, DeVries, Gowan, Montelongo, and Montgomery who himself took stage, with the four Men flanking him. Montgomery’s solo was a beautiful lyrical statement we began to recognize as a fugue theme. The men countered, and traded places throughout the piece. Undulating, the men physically rolled in line to catch Montgomery’s sudden leap into their arms while the wailing violin extended over the action. The dancers each showed their individual brilliance working percussively against the legato line. Then, without fanfare, this breathless tour de force ended in a simple walk off.
Convergence was followed by Grace that created a spirit of prayer to Gabriel Fauré’s exquisite “Pie Jesu”. So reverent and sensitive was the work of Cissoko, Guerra, Mayeux that Montgomery and Babatunji’s taste of emotional and movement insurgency created a tension that left the audience in awe as the music faded and dancers disappeared.
A skirted, Shuaib Elhassan whirled in and out, tornado-like, to create a visual wipe that introduced the next piece.
A Child of the Sky was Tiler Peck’s time to shine. Long flowing brown hair, white diaphanous shift, with her strength of City Ballet technique, she ranged between steamy hot and icy cool while the deep baritone voice of Gregory Parker’s moving and sensuous words “…let me rest in you…” drove the piece on until Peck finally rested downstage to face the audience, and taking a collective breath for just a moment, she swiftly disappeared into the night.
An exciting Indian Raga, featuring percussion instruments, tabla, violin, droning and rhythmic vocal scatting were the subtext of RASA. The fiery Devries begins the piece in her gorgeous green luminous bustier surging onto the stage trading places with Harr and Mayeux. Babatungi’s energetic attacks against Montgomery’s langorous rhythmic fire, Montelongo, Gowan and Eichinger brilliantly compete with and against the wailing and vocal scatting with the instrumentals driving the dance. A marvelous transcendent piece.
Epilogue Pas was the final gift Alonzo King gave the Southern California audience with Adji Cissoko and Michael Montgomery executing their transcendent pas de deux. Gliding Cissoko on pointe across the floor, Montgomery allowed her expressive body to cover and release him. Breathless we watched as she used his frame to rise and fall, defying gravity like the miracle she is. This was a brilliant final piece to end the evening we all hoped would never end. It is vital that we see this brilliance again in Los Angeles. After 17 months of isolation, rediscovering this artistic freedom and soulful feeling makes us realize the deep need for the spirit of dance and art.
To visit the Alonzo King LINES Ballet website, click HERE.
To visit The Music Center website, click HERE.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Cast of The Personal Element – Photo by Denise Leitner