“What’s fascinating about art, if it has any depth, is that regardless of origin it yields many meanings. Experience, familiarity, and capactiy have everything to do with how we percieve information. You cannot imagine what is not within you. For example, someone who only knows a little about love and measures everything in terms of what they put out and what they get back will not understand selfless perpetual love. It’s inconceivable to them” Alonzo King-excerpt from ‘Masters of Movement’
Last weekend, Alonzo King LINES Ballet travelled through the bad weather to delight the St. Louis audiences, barely arriving themselves on time for the show. Performing as part of Washington University’s Ovation series at the Edison Theatre, the San Francisco based troop brought a world-class show with global and nature-inspired elements. Luckily it was the renewed classical form of Indian Tabla music and the healing process of trees that inspired choreographer King, and not blaring car horns and dirty slush. Those of us in St. Louis can get the latter right outside our doorsteps.
The program included two longer pieces of work, opening with ‘Resin’. The title comes from the tiny hardened tears harvested when a tree is cut into the deep sapwood. Resin opens with a dancer engulfed in a luminous cone of fabric meant to simulate light that is eventually lifted. Costumed in body-baring, beautiful fitted pieces in light and dark green and nude shades, the dancers create seeming relationships and communities over the course of many movements. The piece ends with the dancers moving slowly in shadowy light under a raining stream of what must be the resin tears falling upon them. My guess is that it’s really either sand, or rice like some terribly aggressive wedding progression. Much of the dancing was conducted in silence especially while transitioning from one piece of music to the next. There is really never a pause in the dancing. The works of Alonzo King seem to be all action,with very little in the way of gesture and absolutely none in the way of superfluous pantomime. The story-telling exists solely in the tone of the music and movement. While moments of classical technique exist within the choreography, it is hard to isolate one step from the next although each is stunningly executed and noteworthy. There were moments when the movement was not actually very pretty or to me, even conventionally pleasing to watch,particularly in a pas de deux that seemed unattractively violent. The movement seemed to stutter and fight against the partner. It was clearly deliberate and not a missed step by a dancers but it made me feel a bit uncomfortable, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Boundaries of movement vocabulary, theme, influence, and what is ‘pretty, nice, entertaining’ are all things to move beyond. It is impossible to call one dancer out above another as each became my instant favorite for whatever the most recent dazzling step.
To be quite honest, I’m not sure at all what was ‘going on’ in this piece. Were the dancers, dressed in those natural colors, the trees? Or were they the reapers of the resin, hurting the trees and being showered with the tears? I don’t have an answer or even a theory. If I think back on the piece, I think more about the stunning physical displays in impossibly hard choreography. I think about the physical capabilities of the dancers because the piece was so overwhelming that it didn’t leave much of an impact. There was so much, so many different pairings of dancer, and props, and changes of music that it didn’t leave a clear imprint. It’s the same with so many writers that aspire to write a great novel and just go on and on for pages and pages and pages (talk about abusing the trees) when in actuality it’s just as hard, if not harder, to write a concise short-story that really packs a punch. I loved every second of watching these dancers, watching what they could do and what was dreamed up for them in the choreography, but in terms of emotional effect it left me pretty blank. It was visually stunning and stimulating, but for whatever reason, did not cut deep into my own sapwood.
The show continued with ‘Rasa’ after intermission, a piece set to an original score by tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. This music, like the technique of classical ballet, is famed for its complex rhythms, requiring absolute concentration and devotion of performers. Yet the piece was not at all studious and was instead celebratory, full of showmanship in a movement-for-movement’s sake kind of way. The piece spoke of the thrill, the challenge, the escape of practicing and mastering a craft. It was a transformation from the sweat and burn of your average human to the lightness, quickness, exoticism of something greater with infinite freedom and true expression without trying to hard to say anything.
As a species, it is supposed to be language that separates man from beast, communication that makes us civilized. Imagine having every dialect, accent, and various slang at your disposal. There wouldn’t be a thing that you couldn’t comprehend or communicate. That is how the dancers of Alonzo King can express through movement, their capabilities seem limitless. Paired with the imagination of movement vocabulary from King’s choreography, they seem to speak through these long unfolding pieces of choreography and not in specific gestures or singular steps. Meaning comes from the arrangement of words into a sentence, and so it is with these two pieces. Somehow it does not require a necessarily greater attention span as the pieces seem to target something that doesn’t follow a plot line or have a defined character. It seems the best way to appreciate these pieces is to just take it in and not try to hard to understand. How incredible that such refined dancers and rich vocabulary can be turned to something that feels so primal. This feels like art that has no and needs no greater explanation than it’s existence exquisite and incomprehensible.