March 17, 2006
New dance terrain charted by Alonzo King
By David Ollington
In 1906, an orator by the name of John Cowan founded the Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Art. Originally intended to offer training in music, visual arts and a now tragically obsolete field of elocution, the Conservatory experienced several transmutations in its century of existence. Currently a part of the University of Missouri at Kansas City (an affiliation that occurred in 1963), the Conservatory of Music celebrates its 100-year anniversary.
In addition to concerts, productions and recitals done by both students and faculty, the Conservatory books professional artists through their Signature Series. The final performance of the Signature Series this season is titled the 100th Anniversary Grand Finale and will include fireworks and a post-concert champagne reception.
On March 11, Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet performed at White Recital Hall through the Signature Series. King founded this San Francisco-based company in 1982. His credits include work he’s set on some of the most recognized dance organizations world wide including the Hong Kong Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Frankfurt Ballet. His impressive list of accolades includes a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Bessie Award for Choreographer/Creator and five Isadora Duncan Awards.
The concert included two works by King. By fusing pure athleticism with classical ballet, he managed to chart new terrain in the landscape of dance. The eight dancers on the program demonstrated virtuosi skill, daring risk and serious countenance.
Two full-length works respectively occupied the positions of Act I and Act II of the evening, flanking the intermission. Both contained several sections.
King named the first Act “Handel” after the composer of the accompanying sounds. We hear classical music and expect to see classical ballet, and King boldly smashes that expectation. The program biographies of the dancers listed extensive training and experience in ballet, but their onstage behavior predominantly defied and occasionally nodded to Ballet conventions.
Ballerina Drew Jacoby enters the space wearing a futuristic variation of a tutu with a minimalist simplicity. It resembled a tutu that Jane Jetson would wear. Despite her pointed shoes, she executed risky, physical movement rather than the usual light, delicate motion associated with that footwear. As if to acknowledge the audience expectation of a ballet dancer, she would briefly extend her leg or twirl with grace, only to return to the constant kinesthetic hurling with which King dominated the evening.
Though all eight dancers in the company showed notable prowess, two dancers in particular stood out in “Handel.” Brett Conway dripped with sensuality, making lovely the cutting-edged, weighted choreography. His long bangs accentuated the thrown motion, but also cut him off from the audience — a constant in the evening’s dancing. He, like all the dancers, waited until the final bow to look out into the audience, for once taking their eyes off the floor. This seemed to be a deliberate choice on King’s part rather than dancers’ habit. They nonverbally stated, “What is going on inside of me weighs heaviest.”
Prince Credell also stood out for athletic skill, stunning flexibility, and effortless execution, though his attitude matched that of the entire company: matter of fact, somber, serious and internal.
King titled Act II “The Moroccan Project.” Set to Bedouin and Sufi music, the dance continued to explore the virtuosi but aloof dancing of “Handel.” With cathartic, undulating torsos, the dancers passed through positions from the ballet lexicon briefly, while returning to full-bodied, muscled motion, accompanied by spiritual music, showing a difficult religious path, thriving in a shamanic angst.
Benjamin Wardell displayed gasp-inducing flexibility in a legato terpsichorean aria.
One of the cleverest choreographic moments of the concert occurred when King put a woman, dancer Aesha Ash, against a close-standing wall of men. She pressed herself into the “wall,” climbed it, broke it down until the men fell to the earth and she triumphantly sauntered past them, only to meet them once more. King effectively used humor to portray the spiritual discipline inherent in the entire work.
The musicians on the recorded music showed connection, harmony, unison, and call and response. The dancers on the other hand stayed emphatically in their own worlds. Rarely if ever did King’s dancers make eye contact. Their partnering often seemed to come from collision rather than a desire to dance together. Though this fit his expression of an internal, spiritual dance, the juxtaposition of musicians with obvious and clear connection against dancers focused only narcissistically grew tiresome.
An artistic director of a dance company faces the daunting task of having to contrast him or herself in the concert setting. We, the audience, view the first dance and witness innovation, originality, and a specific choreographic voice. Then we view the second dance and unfortunately, often, the choreographer fails to show us more, only a reiteration of the opening ideas.
100th Anniversary Grand Finale will close the 2005-2006 season of the Signature Series, April 21 and 26, at the UMKC Conservatory of Music. Call the Central Ticket Office 816-235-6222.
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.
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