Alonzo King LINES Ballet brings AZOTH to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts this weekend, a restaging of the work King originally created in 2019. For this 2021 tour leg, the company carries a few new dancers and the memory of a year without performances. But though King admits it was strange to return to the studio post-pandemic, it seems as though he began meditating on the concept of this work long before.
“It’s odd coming back to it, slowly finding it again: what was the meaning behind this, what was the motivation? And of course it comes quickly when you see the dancers move,” he said.
The piece’s program notes describe azoth – the universal solvent – as a catalyst in the transformation of Earth’s base metals into pure metals, drawing parallels along the transformation of human mind and heart into ‘spiritual gold.’
Aptly, King seems more interested in the artists’ thoughts on the subject than on the exact technical execution of the choreography. At LINES – where many of the dancers stick around longer than the average ballet company tenure – he asks for interpretation and intention, and most importantly, for self.
“There can be a bit of a surprise, some shock, that you are asked to demonstrate and to utilize more than your body… I’m drawn to people who are deep-thinking, big-hearted, wanting-to-expand people, and artists who are thinking what they can bring to this art form, that is different, unusual, and that is usually themselves,” he said.
This approach shows through onstage in the way the dancers take up space, evident the last few times I’ve seen the company perform and even in video excerpts of AZOTH.
“Because what you’re really dancing is your consciousness, you’re dancing how you think,” King said. “If there hasn’t been deep thinking, what do you have to say? If there’s no thoughts on physics, there’s no thoughts on emotion, there’s no thoughts on structure and architecture, what commentary are you going to participate in?”
There is a purposeful articulation to each breath, though the company always maintains its namesake in vast, unending lines. The choreography is less narrative than the characterized, punctuated gestures of dance theatre, but it communicates profoundly in a way all its own: an unspoken but universal language of sorts.
AZOTH is not King’s first collaboration with saxophonist Charles Lloyd and pianist/composer Jason Moran; he describes their rapport as a meeting of these ‘soul-languages.’
“Dance and music, they’re soul languages, speaking directly soul to soul,” he told me. “They’re brilliant. These men, they were brought up in the language of the soul, and that’s what they’re playing through their instruments. It is indisputable. It’s just the language that you live in… a communication that words are too clumsy for.”
Jim Campbell, another longtime collaborator, designed the light installation that weaves within the piece. Campbell also created the permanent LED exhibit atop the Salesforce tower in San Francisco, Day for Night, which features moving images of LINES dancers. King describes their working relationship as similarly symbiotic.
“There’s a harmony…we want to make something beautiful that lives past our expiration date,” King said.
At this point in his long choreographic career – LINES celebrates its 40th anniversary next year – collaboration flows naturally for King where values align, particularly with this team.
“We were all eager to build something together; as usual, the language is…we talk about contributing something. We’re not really interested in showing off skill, but we want to build something that’s meaningful, that touches people’s hearts. We start talking about construction and law and how we balance that with feeling and intuition, and then we begin,” he said.
But how does King describe such an abstract, universal truth with movement? Breaking it down into steps seems too plain; it seems that the process involves a less literal view of ballet, of what the artists put forth in their performance. You only have to be human to recognize it, to feel it.
“You speak about it. You speak about it through the music that they make, through the movement that you’re making. Dances, they’re theses,” he said. “A lot of people feel it; they’re not able to articulate it, and there’s a subliminal communication, just like in fairytales…Just like there’s profound metaphysical truths that are hidden in fairytale, the same thing is hidden in form.”
He says the weight of these truths is clearer to him now more than ever. The dancers are awake, alive onstage, dancing their consciousness in an almost exemplary manner. He wants them to show us our potential as humans.
“When I’m looking at dancers onstage, I’m seeing humans. There’s struggle, there’s access to internal power, there’s the reoccurrence of falling down and getting back up. Because you keep the goal ever in front of you. Beautiful dancing can show us how to live life. Plain and simple.”
AZOTH will begin the evening in Saturday’s program; other works to the music of Zakir Hussain, Gabriel Fauré, and Edgar Meyer will follow. Tickets are available via the Segerstrom’s website.
To visit the Alonzo King LINES Ballet website, click HERE.
Written by Celine Kiner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: James Gowan – Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Photo by RJ Muna