Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet – Koto/Splash/The Heart’s Natural Inclination

Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet – Koto/Splash/The Heart’s Natural Inclination

May 10 – 12 Mountain View, CA

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

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Fans of San Francisco’s Lines Ballet never have to buy a plane ticket or stand in a security line to get to exotic destinations, a real plus these days. Artistic director/choreographer Alonzo King brings the world to his audience. Last year it was darkest Africa with a whole parcel of Pygmies performing the innovative People of the Forest and this year it is Japan.

Koto, the world premiere of a dance collaboration between King and Japanese composer/performer Miya Masaoka, brought a touch of the Far East to the Yerba Buena Center stage. Named for Masaoka’s instrument, placed on a raised platform stage rear with the composer playing live, Koto is an abstract piece for the entire company in which, although the dancing was amazing, the score is the star. The audience ate it up and, at the end, there was as much cheering for Masaoka as for the dancers.

Her music is mesmerizing, modern and vaguely Asian with a touch of Erik Satie, played on an instrument that sounds somewhere between a piano and a harp. At one point, soft polyphonic chanting on a tape is added.

King matches his dancers’ movement perfectly to this strange but beautiful music. Sometimes the steps are as simple as people circling one another, cautiously at first until one man breaks into a frantic run. A pas de quatre for women is en pointe, with King putting his own spin on conventional ballet steps. The duet that follows is for two men (Artur Sultanov and Christian Burns). One man, dressed in beautifully pleated gauzy pants, beats the other unmercifully with a long stick. The victim, dressed in near-rags, keeps coming back for more, with a hint of a smile on his face. Finally, the attacker falls prone in exhaustion and the victim tries to lift him with no success. This is as close to a story as was evident and it was a knockout, in every sense of the term.

Chi and the Men pits the diminutive Chiharu Shibata, wearing a sexy red dress, against the five male dancers of the troupe who, despite a couple of efforts to break away, are totally under her spell. Splash, a brief piece set to excerpted music by Leslie Stuck, Nino Rota and Francois Poulenc (the best of the bunch), was pleasant but had little impact. It seemed to be little more than a showcase for the talents of Lines alumni, the impossibly leggy Melanie Anderson and Travis Birch, returning as guest artists. Dressed in costumer Robert Rosenwasser’s swimwear, they were an attractive couple and their sinuous pas de deux might have suggested swimming or playing on the beach – but maybe not. It didn’t last long enough to really matter.

The program opened with The Heart’s Natural Inclination, which seemed as long as Splash seemed short. Perhaps that was because of the score, by Stuck again, which was highly electronic and percussive and began to grate on the ear after a while. Rosenwasser’s costume design for this piece was absolutely wonderful however, with a few of the women in elegant, abbreviated Taglioni tutus and everybody else in workout gear. The choreography was vintage King, very strong for the men, very balletic for the girls. A hint of a romance starts things out with Maurya Kerr and Sultanov moving toward and away from each other in an almost robotic way. They finally loosen up when an athletic girl in gym clothes (Lauren Porter) comes between them.

But again, there is little story here for the mind to fix on; just a series of duets, trios, solos and full ensemble dances, wonderfully executed by the superbly trained Lines dancers. So, what more could one want? Perhaps a little less abstraction. An entire program of abstract works is a little hard to pull off unless you are Mark Morris or Balanchine. Perhaps even then.

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Suzanne Weiss has been writing about the arts for the past 35 years. Formerly Arts Editor for the papers of Pioneer Press in the northern Chicago suburban area, her work also has appeared in Stagebill and Crain’s Chicago Business, among other publications. Since moving to the Bay Area she has reviewed theater, opera, dance and the occasional film for the San Mateo Times, “J” and is a regular contributor to culturevulture. She is the author of “Glencoe, Queen of Suburbs.”