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Flash Review 1, 10-17: Blurring the LINES
Alonzo King, Meet "The People of the Forest"

By Tamieca McCloud
Copyright 2001 Tamieca McCloud

NEWARK -- On Sunday, Alonzo King's LINES Ballet presented "The People of the Forest" at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. This new work is an artistic collaboration between LINES Ballet of San Francisco and Nzamba Lela, a 16-member ensemble of musicians and dancers from the BaAka clan of the Mbuti (commonly known as pygmy) -- one of the world's last hunter-gatherer societies in the Central African Republic.

The result is a combination of movement and music with video enhancements that all involved should be proud of. Mr. King's choreography seemed to be an almost contrary visual to the music of Nzamba Lela; however, the cultural 'extremes' blended very smoothly. "The People of the Forest" did not present its audience with a jarring hodgepodge or blatant appropriation of one culture over the other, which could easily have happened. Instead the collaborators somehow managed for it not to seem at all unusual to see tall, lithesome (and, well, mostly white) dancers moving amongst the people of the BaAka clan and to their music. Neither, did it seem that the choreography was just set 'atop' the music or vice versa.


Chiharu Shibata of LINES with members of Nzamba Lela, of the BaAka clan from the Central African Republic. Photo by Marty Sohl.

Instead, the obvious cultural and physical extremes were complimentary and had an almost mythical quality. Most interesting, however, is the sense that while the music would easily hold its own without the dance (as it obviously has for more years than I care to gauge), I had the feeling that if this work were to continue on without the live presence of Nzamba Lela, it would be far less effectual -- for they played a most integral role in the overall success and beauty of the performance.

Particularly notable sections were 'A Lament Pas de Deux,' Christian Burns in 'Solo Man' and the performance of Nzamba Lela, sans the ballet company, in the final section. In fact, I would be most interested in seeing these particular sections isolated and extended on their own. Additionally, Alex Morgenthaler's scenography, lighting design and video were amazing.

"The People of the Forest" opens Friday at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, before moving to Seattle, Portland, and Austin later this fall.

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