The ground breaking Alonzo King LINES Ballet, seen all too rarely in  Los Angeles, was hosted by the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on November 1-3, 2018.

Alonzo King, the Founder and Artistic Director of LINES Ballet is without a doubt a visionary who has altered the way we look, experience and think of self and movement.  Coming from a family of Civil Rights activist parents, his sense of freedom of thought and expression is so clearly stated in his work.  He requires that each individual find who and what they really are.  He inspires and excites exploration and understanding of energies that govern shape and movement.

The evening’s gift of dance was called Sutra, meaning “thread”… that which holds things together.”  As explained in the Program, “In India, music, as well as painting and the drama is considered a divine art,” and how truly divine it was.  A 70-minute tour de force of pure music and dance that lifted and transcended the mundane.   There was no story, but it was a spiritual journey where each piece presented the dancers, all exquisite and individual, with challenges of rhythms, vocals, thrilling movement and the divine.  All not only were helped but were encouraged to explore the infinity of possibilities.

King selected two brilliant Indian composer/musicians who created and performed the nine Ragas (melodic framework for improvisation in Indian classical music).  Zakir Hussain is noted as one of the great musicians and Tabla virtuosi and national treasure of India.  “his playing is marked by uncanny intuition and masterful improvisational dexterity…”; and Sabir Khan, coming from nine generations of Sarangi players and vocalists, is considered one of the “beacons of the younger generation…and product of [a] talented lineage”.  Costumes superbly done by Robert Rosenwasser were exquisite and utilitarian, showing the dancers bodies tastefully, allowing them freedom for their exceptional movement.  The scenic and lighting design by Scott Bolman and David Finn beautifully enhanced the heightened moments throughout the evening.

The whole evening crescendoed with each highlight, making all nine ragas a lesson in brilliance and challenged our willingness, understanding and ability to breath in the incredible masterpiece of dance.   Within the evening there were moments that were so inventive and brilliant to be forever embedded in our minds.

The stunning opening with exquisite dancer, Madeline DeVries in a flesh colored bugle beaded tunic-dress blended the gorgeous legato lines as her legs and arms intertwined Shiva-like into extreme yogic positions.   Her flexible arrow-like feet and strong slim legs and arms were so hypnotic as to take the audience’s breath away.  She began with long legato line then blending and flowing with the spellbinding drone of the vocal and instrumentals, which called the other brilliant artists, one by one, James Gowan,  Ilaria Guerra, Maya Harr, Yujin Kim, Jeffrey Van Sciver, Ashley Mayeux,, Babatunji, Shauaib Elhassan, Michael Montgomery, and Robb Beresford who came to join in, all so individual, and spectacular in their own right.

As we continued the experience, another haunting section began as pure dance and soon became rolling moments, as if birthing.   And, without realizing, a kind of “membrane” was being pulled, Graham-style, over back and head – over legs, arms and shoulders, transfixing our gaze and revealing the company in the common struggle and breakthrough, then taking a breath, and again challenging the effort as if a newborn was working through their escape to life beyond.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet 2001 by Kevin Perry Alonzo King LINES Ballet 2838 by Kevin Perry Alonzo King LINES Ballet 2875 by Kevin Perry Lines Ballet  performing a world premiere with Zakir Hussain Lines Ballet  performing a world premiere with Zakir Hussain Lines Ballet  performing a world premiere with Zakir Hussain Lines Ballet  performing a world premiere with Zakir Hussain Lines Ballet  performing a world premiere with Zakir Hussain Lines Ballet  performing a world premiere with Zakir Hussain Lines Ballet  performing a world premiere with Zakir Hussain
Adji Cissoko & Michael Montgomery | Alonzo King LINES Ballet PHOTO CREDIT: © Chris Hardy

Each moment became more boundless than the next.  So many lyrical surprises were performed by the remarkable Adji Cissoko whose miraculous body, so strong and supple, with such emotional facility, responded to every nuance with her male counterparts, Babtunji, Van Sciver, Montgomery, and the 6’4’ Elhassan.  Then followed by an exceptional male dancer, with streamers attached to arms and legs.  His circular patterns and extensions, beyond his own body, made him appear to fill the entire stage.  All of it done to Konnako, the Indian form of “rhythmic solfege” or a kind of Indian scatting that countered his languorous turns and stretches as he spun and breathed with the heartbeat of the music.

As an audience, one realized they must not divert their gaze in case of missing another spectacular and freeing moment over the wailing sounds.  Then, without warning, the company breaks into what at first resembled a mountain of trash, and like a miracle, it is animated into a flurry of bird-like scarfing with colors, earth tones, light greens, soft pinks and bright yellow silken scarves wildly tossed in midair by each muse, taking on a joyous freedom.  Again, without warning, the dancers begin moving off stage leaving a form totally under the mound of diaphanous cloth.  Slowly, the covered being begins to rise, moving off stage virtually hidden by piles of color as if they were some hapless outcast making their way in the world and disappearing into darkness.

All of this finally leading to a dervish like finale, with each performer creating their own ecstatic form of prayer.  Each body more elevating than another with an almost unworldly beyond-the-body joyousness…led by the remarkable Michael Montgomery whose brilliant flowing, sustaining and whirling can only be experienced in the moment.  It was a transcendent experience for the entire audience, who collectively rose to a spiritual height only possible when touching God.

Alonzo King says and truly believes “We are larger than our definitions.” He has challenged his brilliant dancers and Company to prove to the world that this is possible.   It was a performance not to be missed.  LINES is a company of brilliant creators that speaks to the world in limitless aesthetics, and we are grateful.

To learn more about LINES Ballet, click here.

To learn more about the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, click here.

Featured image:  Babatunji (dancer in pink), of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, performing Sutra; PHOTO CREDIT: RJ Muna