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Joanna G. Harris
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Alonzo King: LINES Ballet - Challenges: old and new

by Joanna G. Harris
October 23, 2011
San Francisco, CA
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Novellus Theater, San Francisco
October 14-23, 2011

Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
The very accomplished Alonzo King asked the very talented music authority Francesco Spagnolo, PhD for research about Sephardic songs to accompany Lines' new production, entitled "Resin." In his essay introducing the music, Spagnolo explains that Sephardic music is "a host of musical cultures originating from the Iberian Jews" …and that it is a truly global network of exchanges of ideas, trade routes, religious experiences and cultural turns." The music is hauntingly beautiful, and at times deeply religious. It can also be very charming, amusing and secular.

To fourteen of these melodies, King set his dances, all brilliantly adorned with Lines' designer Robert Rosenwasser's production and costumes. The stage lighting is dramatic. During two numbers, water falls from above; later sand rains down. The bare- chested men and elegant women in short tunics perform the familiar vocabulary King arranges for them: elongated leg extensions, extended developés, multiple turns and full leaps. For this viewer, except for the duet in which Keelan Whitmore and Victor Mateos Arellano walked solemnly around the stage as a Yemenite recitation by father and son of the aleph/bet (alphabet) is recited, almost none of the music is reflected in the dance. Even Psalm 137, to a Jordi Savalli recording, the text of which reads, "By the waters of Babylon," a song of exile, did not evoke longing, nostalgia nor the cries inherent in the music.

Not until Meredith Webster and David Harvey with Ashley Jackson danced "Tsour Maguinerou" did the unique qualities- undulations and sultry sounds resonate in the dancer's moves. Webster, with her uncanny ability to move slowly, sensuously and thoughtfully had command of the songs' qualities. Much of the time solo dancers just crossed the stage with their extraordinary feats. There were, from time to time, short spells of ensemble work but these did not last long enough to develop. Although all the dancers have astonishing technical ability, this gorgeous historical selection of mood and music was not the appropriate environment for that display.

An older work, "Who Dressed you like a Foreigner," (1998) responded more closer to the Indian rhythms composed by Zakir Hussain. The drum rhythms were echoed in the footwork and although the solo work again dominated there were several sections in which Meredith Webster danced that made the work come across as elegant and substantial. Sandra Woodall and Robert Rosenwasser were credited with costumes; Axel Morgenthaler with lighting.

The duet "Ma" was revived for the closing number of the show. "Ma" is a duet for Webster and David Harvey during which echoes of a pieta are seen. Webster curls Harvey on her lap and assists him in rising, moving and maintaining locomotion. Finally he relapses into her lap as at the start. It is an emotionally stirring work, difficult to see as part of "Who Dressed you like a Foreigner." But then, Alonzo King clearly works in his very own marvelous, strange and unique ways.
Meredith Webster: soloist, Lines Ballet

Meredith Webster: soloist, Lines Ballet

Photo © & courtesy of Unknown

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