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Alonzo King LINES Ballet

May 5, 2013
Caroline Rocher in "Scheherazade" Photograph by R.J. Muna

Caroline Rocher in “Scheherazade”
Photograph by R.J. Muna

Resin and Scheherazade

Reviewed May 4, 2013

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

Scheherazade – well, Resin too – is a fascinating juxtaposition of 21st century contemporary ballet and ancient ideas. And it’s infinitely approbatory how well it works.

The two works presented during Saturday’s matinee and evening performances – each about 45 minutes – fit amazingly well together. Resin could be a prequel for Scheherazade. All 12 dancers perform in both pieces, much of the movement is the same, the accompaniment is equally mesmerizing, the sets are fairly minimalist, elements of the costumes are similar.

But then you might expect that from a small, tightly knit international touring troupe, whose founder Alonzo King choreographed both pieces and whose costumes and sets were designed in both instances by Robert Rosenwasser.

You could say LINES Ballet, which has been housed in San Francisco for the past 30 years, is a poster child for innovative choreography (by King), super-disciplined dancers, one-of-a-kind music and the blending of all these into a coherent whole.

Resin, which opens the show, has been inspired by tree resin and the “tears” that form when the gum bleeds from wounded trees, King tells us in the program. Created in 2011, it comprises solos, duets and ensembles. Elongated arms cut and slice the air, stretched legs are often “en pointe,” even though they are not wearing pointe shoes. Pairings of dancers are unusual in that they are more about how the bodies fit together or support each other than a partnering.

The men are all bare-chested, wearing briefs or dance pants in sand or peacock blue colour. The women wear beautifully designed leotards in shades of aqua and muted gold. The accompaniment is a series of recordings of haunting ancient Sephardic music and the unique compositions of Spanish hybrid musician Jordi Savall.

The look and sound of the piece is dramatic, compelling and magnetic. It concludes with rivulets of grain spilling continuously in beams of light at the back of the stage, adding a magical touch of infinity.

In Scheherazade, King re-invents the romantic collection of Persian, Sanskrit and Arabic fables. He created this work in 2009 for the Monaco Dance Forum in honour of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo’s centenary. His work pays homage to the company’s founder Sergei Diaghilev and the score by tabla master Zakir Hussain re-interprets Rimsky-Korsakov’s 19th-century composition based on “One Thousand and One Nights.” Hussain incorporates ancient Persian string, wind and percussive instruments, the Indian tabla and Western strings, including the harp, for a revelatory effect on the new take on this timeless and culturally rich story.

Colleen Quen collaborated with Rosenwasser on the costumes for Scheherazade – bold, earthy coloured sarongs for the men, and form-fitting bodices and short skirts for the women, that highlight their lean, sinewy limbs.

The choreography is demanding, but these strong dancers make it seem effortless. The pas de deux between Kara Wilkes as Scheherazade and David Harvey as Shahryar is poignant and heartfelt, beginning with the two roped together at the ankles. The insistent tabla and a haunting melody stroke the dancers through their intimate relationship, while eight glowing amber teardrop lights descend from the rafters, eventually crumpling onto the floor to create small heaps of “fire” before ascending again to mark the end of the sequence.

Overall, there’s a wonderful immediacy about the work, as if we have peeked through a window to a time long gone.

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From → Ballet, Contemporary

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