Title: Through sound and shape: Alonzo King LINES Ballet performance
Author: Jessica Yang, Arts Writer
Celebrated contemporary ballet company, Alonzo King LINES seeks to explore the possibilities of movement and instill new meanings to traditional ballet. The company was founded in 1982 and is guided by the unique artistic vision of Alonzo King. It performs pieces that combine contemporary ballet with cultural elements outside of dance. Renowned for his artistic visions as a choreographer and his skills as a teacher, King creates works that dazzle with their originality and transform the art ofballet and the performers alike.
On Thursday evening, the company performed “Biophony” in Lang Performing Arts Center. The piece was created in 2015 through collaboration with natural soundscape artist Bernie Krause and composer Richard Blackford. Called “riveting” by the San Francisco Chronicle, “Biophony” brought to the Swarthmore audience a unique acoustic and visual experience. On stage, the dancers enacted strings of movements to a wildlife accompaniment, which ranged from crickets from the American Southwest to elephants from the Central African Republic. While the music’s absence of clear rhythm imparted a fluid and amorphous effect on the movements, the form of classical ballet was obvious from the dancers’ articulation of each movement. The music’s defiance of conventions and ballet’s traditional emphasis on technique collided into a contemporary piece that both satisfied and defied expectations.
Louisa Carman ’21 attended the ballet and was enthralled.
“I particularly loved a duet that was set to elephant noises; it was interesting how some of the movement had the heavy, grounded quality of elephants, even while one of the dancers was being lifted into the air. But at times I found the choreography to be somewhat static, where there was neither structure nor climax to the piece,” said Carman.
In “Biophony”, King’s artistic vision is conveyed both by the individual dancers’ energy and by the overall effect generated by the company. Changing their hand gestures and spinning their head with clear intention, the soloists attended to the most minute details and thereby vividly imitated the animals. By accentuating and combining each individual member’s artistic voice, the ensemble as a whole enacted the harmonic coexistence of various creatures. Dancers added their distinct flair to the same set of choreography; their dance in unison, although in which the movements were not perfectly synchronized, resulted in an organic harmony composed of each dancer’s personality. Rather than following a narrative sequence of rising action, climax, and resolution, “Biophony” mirrors the non-human voices that have informed, as the group explains on its website:
“All of our music, our language, our sonic cultural expression”, and thereby celebrates the evolution of dance.”
Although dancers are the basic units of expression in “Biophony”, the choreographer’s intention and vision is palpable throughout the piece. Meredith Webster, the current Ballet Master of LINES, strives to evoke every individual dancer’s inner light as she fulfills King’s artistic vision through rehearsals and performances.
“Qualities that make compelling artists are the same as the ones that make a fully realized person, and so I believe a dancer should pursue awareness, bravery, articulation, and generosity, on and off the dance floor,” Webster explained as she reflected back on her experience as a performer, a faculty member, and a choreographer at LINES.
Webster’s instructing approach in her Master Class on Thursday afternoon reflected her training philosophy. Not only did she push student dancers technically when they were learning the phrase work, but she also compelled them to divorce judgment of a movement from doing it. Using verbal cues to guide students, Webster encouraged them to let their inner voices inform their movements.
“Webster challenges her students to seek authenticity and bravery, to ask themselves ‘how can I do this movement’ and to willingly move from the inside out,” observed Olivia Sabee, assistant professor of dance.
The company’s second piece, “The Propelled Heart”, contrasts with “Biophony” in that its subject is one more intimate and familiar to the audience. Accompanied by the resplendent voice of Grammy-winning vocalist Lisa Fischer, the sentimental ballet explored the expansions and constrictions of hearts as humans venture in search for truth and growth. The dancers expressed their own interpretation of the dance through variation in quality of their movements, and furthermore, established connectivity with each other through movements in canon and unison.
“I like it especially because I find the interactions between partners to be very touching. The dancers really established a connection on stage, and the piece was a dialogue instead of a story,” commented Sophie Song ’20.
Both pieces dealt with evolution: the first with the culture of the human race, the second with the history of the human mind. But they are also an evolution for the performers in that they endeavor to unveil the internal initiation of movements by transcending the external form of ballet. And thus, they led the audience on an exploratory journey and revealed new possibilities for ballet.