Alonzo King Lines Ballet at The Wallis in Beverly Hills, on June 9 &10, presented “Deep River.” King and dancers developed and collaborated on this piece as a result of “three years of working in designated time periods in unusual settings.” With his guidance and oversight, this 65 minute intermission-less work encompassed the tireless technical prowess of the company’s dancers; Babatunji, Adji Cissoko, Madeline DeVries, Shuaib Elhassan, Joshua Francique, James Gowan, Ilaria Guerra, Maya Harr, Marusya Madubuko, and Tatum Quinonez . They performed with such strength and abandon, as to hold the audience for a full hour. They worked in solo’s, duos, trios and groups that explored the limits of their own bodies, some working on point and others barefooted in modern, ballet, contemporary and playfulness.
The vocals, with deep songs and sounds of Grammy Award Winner Lisa Fischer were based on spirituals from the Black and Jewish traditions. It included adaptations of the beloved music of Pharoah Sanders, Maurice Ravel, and James Weldon Johnson which informed the basis and the heart of the pieces performed. The intriguing original compositions composed by Jason Moran lifted above and through the memorable spiritual modes.
The elegance of the Lighting Design by Jim French, Costume Design by Robert Rosenwasser, and Sound Design by Philip Perkins transported the piece with its exquisitely ethereal representation. This allowed the dancer the freedom to move without limits and created the visuals that transported them beyond the stage.
One of the highlights of the evening was a gorgeous rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing by composer, James Weldon Johnson. It was performed by the powerful, technically beautiful Babatunji who was never bound to the music, but stretched out the phrasing, then effortlessly resolved it. His amazing play with the expression and movement allowed for a deep emotional melding with Fischer’s vocal rendition.
Another magical moment was a pas de deux between Adji Cissoko and Shuaib Elhassan to end the hour. With the music of “Deep River” it broke away from the lines and angles of the ensemble and into an unearthly duet that wound its way to the end of the nearly non-stop movement. Cissoko’s unbelievable length of legs, arms and body exquisitely expressed an unusual primal nature with a surprise at every turn.
There was a moment unfinished. The section in which Cissoko was being tossed by Babtunji, then clutching like an animal to Francique’s body supported by two dancers, then tossed back to Babatunji. This occurred three or four times without resolution which left some in suspended confusion.
A relieving break was Madeline DeVries and James Gowan’s duet, with playful slap stick schtick, plenty of high energy antics and with out-loud laughter that resembled children at play. This was a delightful change of pace.
It is clear that this is a remarkable company of creatives. The caution would be that its non-stop random movement without the benefit of intention of concept, breadth and change of pace, tends towards playing at a high level of one note.
For more information about Alonzo King LINES Ballet, please visit their website.
For more information about The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, please visit their website.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Alonzo King LINES Ballet – “Deep River”, choreography by Alonzo King – Performed at at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts June 9-10, 2023 – Photo by Elaine Francis