Troubled waters and their tempestuous weather systems are the palette for the world premiere of Alonzo King’s “Let Not Your Heart be Troubled.” We see the projection on the drop of a rippling cosmic amniotic sac rising from a shoreline. It shields four humanoid sea creatures. The sac trembles and shatters along its fault lines until it bursts. Its human contents are urged to their feet by a gentle keening that embraces both mourning and hope in a singular vocalized rill. The remnants of the crystalline membrane fall away and more dancers appear as the seascape rights itself into relatable proportions, alternately darkened and brightened. It harbors a weather system that once determined how we sensed the exterior world, but now has found a home that resists the hospitable inside of everyone—some more vulnerable than others.
I’ve come with a friend whose expectations are specific. She wants to hear what vocalist Lisa Fischer, whose career she has followed from its beginnings, brings to this medium, and what a contemporary dance vocabulary offers that cannot express itself, according to some universalized shibboleth, in classical terms. Convinced that such a dichotomy has proven itself a false one, soon to reveal the limits of its shelf life, I feel at one with the late Bay Area Poet Laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who wrote “I am waiting” for that expiration date to arrive. Do my friend and I have the right to our expectations, or is an audience just a randomized collection of passive objects, a surrogate studio mirror to reflect the sum total of what dancers bring on any given afternoon or evening?
In keeping with the work’s presumption that we have soldiered through hard times, some of us surviving, others having fallen, wrangling by pairs or trios of dancers takes on a different aspect than in previous works by King. They are working at defining themselves on two fronts, in a struggle to test each other’s mettle, and in so doing, each honing a repositioning from which to meet the challenges of unpredictable global tremors and terrors, the labor pains that accompany the birthing of a new and more precarious era. Women dancers, held high, stretch against the projected wind-driven waves, extending every fiber to push back against an angry, roiling sea. Men hunch crablike, jumping like crustacean grace notes. Long-legged lunges in wide second position push out against the tides to welcome a swirling yet merciful pooling. Ritual gestures betray a manicured desperation for sacramental resolution.
My friend notices that the answer to her query comes in the four pas de deux that punctuate the work. “I expected the contemporary label to predict the broader vocabulary, but it seemed narrow compared with what came in the pas de deux. The classical frame supports more, not less.” The outstanding delivery by Madeline De Vries, Babatunji, Adji Cissoko, Shuaib Elhassan, Ilaria Guerra, Marusya Madubuko, and Maya Harr, give legs to the creatures that emerged in their infancy from the segment entitled “Opening,” nurtured into sanguine maturation by Fischer’s responsive vocals.
In a post-curtain Q&A with Alonzo King and Lisa Fischer, King temporizes that there are three kinds of people who give: those who give and don’t let you forget it; those who give and they don’t forget it; and those who give, but don’t realize that they are giving. In King’s estimation, Fischer, who has sung backup or otherwise accompanied many such greats as The Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross, Chakka Khan, and Roberta Flack, falls into the third category. Thanks to her, each performance is different, as she sets a pace cued by how the dancers are responding to music she not only sings, but has scored. An audience member asks how she can offer such faithful accompaniment. “I watch the dancers’ movements, their expressions, find a meeting of the eyes.” It’s a good strategy in these times, as we humans comb the landscape for allies in our quest for victory over what King refers to as a cloud that has temporarily darkened our sensibilities. He predicts that sunnier days will prevail, reminding me of what the Cuban dance pedagogue Fernando Alonso, foremost purveyor of classical ballet training, liked to point out: “With one finger, you cannot block the sun.” Another audience member asks King what inspires his choreography. “A deadline,” he jokes, deadpan. Yet, in all seriousness, and in times such as these, one is left to hope that a karmic deadline carrying a greater urgency will benefit from a riptide of strong enough inspiration to answer needs on a scale that may prove immeasurable tomorrow by the depth finder we count on today.