Alonzo King’s “Lines Ballet” could easily be called the “Limbs Ballet” as many of the gangly dancers sport excessively sinewy arms and legs, including hands that seem to extend beyond their fingertips. To this natural fluidity, grace, strength, and at times effeminate gesturing (said with the best of intention) is juxtaposed the neoclassic and militaristic string quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich. Together, this competent corps de ballet, brooding Russian composer, and King’s revisionary ballet style focusing much on the upper extremities–make up the world premiere of “Shostakovich.”
“Shostakovich” is a flurry of undulating arms in space and their intermingling among the dancers. Brief rigorous solos flow effortlessly while seemingly void of classic ballet moves yet totally referencing ballet with every sensual position. Solos turn into duets that are well paired and give the piece its substance. In particular, is the stellar matching of Kara Wilkes with Babatunji as both of these athletic dancers are able to control and rein in this extravagance of limbs and undulation without sacrificing the plasticity of the choreography. There is something solid to their dancing, both as soloist and in their brief paring that grounds “Shostakovich” and keeps it from becoming too lofty.
Designer Robert Rosenwasser’s set of a florescent tube that runs the length of the set and rises slowly upward throughout the dance adding to that up-into thin air quality. When a soloist lunges across the stage with a florescent tube, like Gandalf holding his magical walking stick, it is more literal than metaphoric–more of an awkward attempt to interact with the set design than to add any new depth to the performance.
“Shostakovich” contains five movements, through which dancers move diligently through as they make it the perfect vehicle for introducing the talents and stamina of several new members. The piece ends with the entire company dancing to Shostakovich’s No. 8 in C Minor, which is still frenetic but with a more melancholy bent, as dancers meld into slow motion and into each other.
“Rasa” (2007) which means “juice” or “essence” in Hindi, is one of King’s definitive pieces. It follows with a similar tour de force quality that ties both dances together neatly –despite a seven-year span between them. Rosenwasser’s minimal set design again keeps the focus on the choreography and the exuberant energy and relentless strength of the company. Performed live to legendary tabla musician Zakir Hussain’s hypnotic Mideastern rhythms, and Indian classical vocalist Kala Ramnath’s haunting cries and timeless chanting,“Rasa” makes it impossible to know when the dancers are inspiring the ragas or the ragas are controlling the movement. Pirouettes are twirled as quickly and precisely as Hussain’s fingers can attack his drum and both dancers and raga climax into a frenzy never missing a beat. Pas de deuxs are elaborately tactile with partners climbing and crawling over and around each other.
Rosenwasser’s visually solid set starts with a copper horizon line of textured light streaking through the center of the backdrop, like the sun setting behind distant sand dunes, until the fames of that light open to consume the stage as if the heat of the day is weighted upon it. From this sultry design and Mideastern rhythms, King extracts every last essential drop of his dancers who eventually rest before an equally energetic standing ovation.