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Review, 4-14: The Rite of King
Lines Director Makes a Sacrifice, and a Ballet for the Ailey
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2004 Aimee Tsao
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Seeing
Alonzo King's "Heart Song" performed by the Alvin Ailey American
Dance Theater on March 9 at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall confirmed
my hunch about the symbiotic relationship that is created when King
works with companies not his own. I had noticed it before when he
set new work on Oakland Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem. Perhaps
being out of his routine and working with new dancers stimulated
him and opened up new choreographic avenues. At the same time, the
dancers in these companies were inspired in return and gave performances
that I had no idea they were capable of. Truly a "best of both worlds"
King created "Heart
Song" to Moroccan music composed by Bouchaib Abdelhadi, Yassir Chadley,
and Hafida Ghanim. I am immediately drawn into the music. It is
arresting both in its impassioned performance (unfortunately pre-recorded
instead of live) and in the complexity and balance between the voice
and instruments. I could simply close my eyes and let it carry me
away. The dancing is equally engaging, with King's characteristic
inventiveness and the dancers' fluid execution, yet somehow the
two don't quite fit together. The music has a deeply reverential
feeling that is not always reflected in the choreography.
I have long lamented
AAADT's gradual loss of raw soul over the 36 years I have been watching
the company. As the original dancers left or retired, each succeeding
generation, especially after Ailey's death, had a less developed
skill in communicating the spiritual essence of his work. While
the level of technical accomplishment has risen stratospherically,
the ability for emotional expressiveness has diminished proportionally.
For the first time in a long while, in King's choreography, these
dancers are suddenly awakened and reveal newly-discovered ways of
When I first heard that
King would be presenting his own version of "The Rite of Spring"
for his own Lines Ballet's spring season at the Yerba Buena Center
for the Arts Theater in San Francisco, I wondered what was behind
the decision. The Stravinsky music alone is monumental, not to mention
the historical importance of Nijinsky's original 1913 "Le Sacre
du Printemps" choreography to it, or the subsequent versions by
dozens of choreographers, both well known and obscure. At least
24 have been created since 2000, according to the Roehampton University
of Surrey's Stephanie Jordan and Larraine Nicholas, who have compiled
a data base of dances set to Stravinsky.That means a lot
of choreographers appear to be driven to perform some rite of passage
by tackling this music.
Of the four versions
I had seen previously, the Nijinsky re-construction by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth
Archer, and those created by Maurice Bejart, John Neumeier and Angelin Preljocaj, I still find Nijinsky's the most
impressive and visceral. The Bejart and Neumeier, with their stripped
down unitard costuming and even a naked Chosen One in Neumeier's,
were well-structured and clearly spoke in the respective choreographer's
voice. Preljocaj gave it a more contemporary look by using appropriate
sets and costumes, but remained true to the story of the sacrifice.
Based on the opening
night performance, on Friday, April 9, King's ballet is less clearly
delineated in terms of following the traditional synopsis of the
action. Or rather, he attempts to tell, more or less, the traditional
story -- if the titles of the different sections as listed in the
program are any indication -- but his intentions are not borne out.
"Rite" begins well with
an expressive solo danced by Laurel Keen, followed by dancing for
a group of young girls. In 'Spring Rounds,' for the full company,
augmented by guest dancers and students from the Lines Ballet School
and the School of the Arts, we get unleashed power. Unfortunately,
the whole group cannot maintain moving in unison for very long.
One young man on the far edge of the group even keeps looking behind
himself to see what the others are doing.
The narrative line begins
to blur with 'Ritual of Rival Tribes,' as it is not clear whether
these are really rivals or members of the same tribe pretending
to be enemies for the ritual. Since it appears more that they are
true rivals it detracts from the thread that is leading through
to the end. 'Procession of the Sage' and a solo for the Sage, danced
by Maurya Kerr with a primitive regality, effectively show Kerr
to be the one who is looked to for guidance and the one who is respected
and honored. The next few sections are fine until 'Glorification
of the Chosen One.'
is in the center of the stage inside a tight circle of half a dozen
dancers. I know that, according to the program, Corinne Larsen Haas
is the Chosen One, so why isn't she in the circle? No cast change
has been announced. I realize I have missed how the Chosen One is
selected when I see Haas standing alone on stage. In the final sacrificial
dance, Haas spends a lot of time barely doing anything, even as
the music demands that she dance herself past human endurance.
Despite these shortcomings,
there are some very exciting moments and King has utilized the space
of the stage to much better advantage than he usually does; lines
curve around to fill in the corners and circles, sweeping up dancers
and carrying them onward.
Also on the program
is "The Patience of Aridity, Waiting for Petrichor," another aptly
named ballet, but it only becomes apparent after a trip to the dictionary.
Petrichor is the pleasant smell that accompanies the first
rain after a dry spell. The first twelve sections are mostly duets
and solos to music by Miguel Frasconi. The simple haunting cello
melody is quite moving at first, but gradually the sameness, like
water on stone, wears on my patience. In the opening pas de deux,
John Michael Schert partners a very expressive Kerr, who shifts
rapidly between tenderness toward Schert and pushing him away. Brett
Conway also stands out in his solo. The thirteenth and last section,
a pas de deux to an excerpt from Edgar Meyer's "Violin Concerto,"
danced by Keen and Schert, stands in complete opposition to the
opening one. The steps are far more classical and there is greater
harmony between the two dancers. Martin Gagnon's lighting is exquisite
for this piece and all the other ones on the program.
The pas de deux "Coleman
Hawkins" is inspired by the great tenor saxophonist. With such jazzy
music Chiharu Shibata and Prince Credell should turn up the thermostat
and let us share in the ensuing sauna.
"Baker Fix" is a bubbly,
witty and sexy piece to three songs sung by Josephine Baker. Dressed
in a fringed red gown by Colleen Quen Couture, Kerr sashays and
struts her way across stage in 'Haiti.' To an excerpt from 'Toc
Toc Partout,' Lauren Porter Worth triggers me into a false memory
syndrome episode where I imagine I am seeing what Miss Baker actually
looked like. A feathery concoction with ropes of pearls by Robert
Rosenwasser confirms the illusion. Worth spins out a mix of Charleston
and King's own intricate steps with a toss of her head and a sly
smile. Kerr comes back to 'J'attends Votre Retour' in a bouffant
dress, black background splashed with colorful butterflies. Before
long a lone pearly white two-foot-in-diameter ball rolls out from
the wings. She holds it, perches on top of it, kicks and throws
it until suddenly the whole stage is filled with balls of various
sizes and pale iridescent colors.
After reading up a bit
on Baker, I am amazed to learn she was more than just an entertainer,
but was involved with the French Resistance during World War II
and later was an activist for civil rights. Someone of her stature
warrants a much longer homage, maybe even an evening-length ballet
to pay tribute to all her many facets.
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