Alonzo King LINES Ballet / Samantha Burns

Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

The Williams Center, Lafayette College

By Samantha Burns

One of the most sought-after dance companies in the world, Alonzo King LINES Ballet made its Lehigh Valley debut at the Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College. Co-founded by King and his artistic partner, Robert Rosenwasser, the company performs highly physical and innovative contemporary ballets that have taken the international dance scene by storm. The program for the evening boasted two of King’s newer works: Biophony and The Propelled Heart, both of which were conceived in 2015. 

King described Biophony as the “tuning of the great animal orchestra”. As the title comes from the Greek root words meaning “life” and “sound”, the score for this piece was a collection of diverse calls, cries, and coos of the animal kingdom. The soundscape was compiled and designed by Bernie Krause, who traveled around the world to retrieve each animal sound for the piece. The authenticity of the sound backed the wild, untamed bodies in motion. The dancers created a montage of wildlife, moving through space, merely to be observed from a distance. The collaboration of the natural sounds and the animalistic choreography presented a evocative ecosystem of technical brilliance and wholehearted abandon.

The piece began with a single female dancer, moving along the floor, to the sound of crickets. More performers entered, and engaged in fluid, earthy phrase work that highlighted the capabilities of each technician’s body. Throughout the piece, King utilized an array of distinct vocabulary, from vibratory accents of the foot or feet, to sky-bound extensions. The choreography explored cross-hemispheric movement, with limbs twisting and spiraling around one another. When the company danced in unison, they moved as a herd of antelope, or a school of fish. Although they executed the movement in the same sequential order with similar timing, the choreography was individually customized to fit the each dancer. The result was a flock of movement, a codified unit with distinct and recognizable parts. These moments were striking, and successfully conveyed the piece’s central inspiration: an ode to the natural world. 

Shortly thereafter, the company tackled a more emotionally driven work, The Propelled Heart. Inspired by Sri Yukteswar’s work The Holy Silence, this piece personified the five stages of the heart: dark, steady, devoted, clean, and propelled. It explored connection between one another, and the relationship of the individual with the heart. Dramatic, chaotic, and full, the choreography paired with original compositions by Lisa Fischer and JC Maillard dove deep into he human experience, and unearthed the good, the bad, and the ugly. The ambience of the piece shifted from haunting disorder to romantic endeavors; more partner work and connection between performers was present as the work progressed. The choreography was sinewy and twisted, with an air of turbulence that, when paired with the juxtaposition of the dancers’ ease of movement, captivated viewers with a sense of uncertainty. Regardless of the shifting atmosphere and relationship between the dancers, the piece always had underlying tension present. 

It was clear through the unconventional execution of classical vocabulary that the dancers possessed exceptional precision and control. Multiple flat-footed pirouettes and consecutive floating inversions were demonstrated with finesse. While the performance of the cast was next to godlike, King’s artistic direction brought them back down to earth with moments of brutal vulnerability and rawness. Vocalization was scattered throughout the work, demonstrating the animality within the human psyche. There was a moment where a single male dancer was continuously hooting, and bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. As his elevation rose, his vocalization became more frequent and desperate, until he finally collapsed on the floor and let his voice trail off into the silence. Extended sighs coming from the company signified release and relief. It was clear that this piece was rooted deeply in the human experience, one that is peppered with emotion. It unchained real interaction between the mind and the heart, and the connections that occur between people as a result. 

While Biophony required the cast to plunge into the animal side of humanity, and what nature looks like on the human form, the dancers had to peel layer upon layer of personal understanding of the emotion in The Propelled Heart. King’s complex choreography required superb technical execution and unwavering performance dedication; the company certainly did not disappoint. What a pleasure it was to have seen this prestigious company take the stage on Lehigh Valley soil - we certainly look forward to their return.