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Flash Review, 4-9: Ecstasy Without Words
Tracing LINES in San Francisco

By Jordan Winer
Copyright 2000 Jordan Winer

SAN FRANCISCO--Two women take turns doing solos on a vast stage bathed in burnt sienna and ochre light. One sits and watches the other with full, rapt attention. As we in the audience watch the smile of the watcher, as well as the serpentine prowling of the soloist, all to the haunting strains of master oud player Hamza El Din, we are exactly where the title of the dance would have us be: Ecstasy.

Ecstasy is one part of one of the longer pieces, "Tarab," the only non-premiere in a mostly satisfying program of Alonzo King's LINES Contemporary Ballet at Yerba Buena in San Francisco which opened Friday. The crown jewel of "Tarab" is the brilliant Wedding Dance. As El Din played and sang, his sensual reedy voice filling the vast theatre as soothingly as bathwater, pairs of women and pairs of men crossed back and forth striking snaky, Egyptian poses that contorted through every joint in their body. It was a pure and wonderful piece, the marriage couple ending the dance in mock fatigue, jostling together in reckless joy.

"In To Get Out," a premiere, was the most haunting dance of the evening. Four buffed guys enter the stage like a gang of hoods. One tall man repeatedly pushes a shorter guy, menacingly, but done with the architectural precision that King is so deft at. Then a sort of balletic "Fight Club" ensues. The four men, naked except for tiny purple shorts, start wrestling and fighting in a clump. As one man is pushed out, he struggles to get back in. This breaks up into a series of virtuosic solos, with lots of breaks where the men stalk each other, or care for each other; it's hard to tell. One of the most striking images comes when one tall dancer simply lays his hand on the shoulder of the man standing in front of him, in stillness. Somei Satoh's mournful music fits this piece like a glove, as does the wonderful lighting by Axel Morgenthaler, who lit the piece as if through holes punched in the theatre's ceiling.

Another premiere, "Tango," with music by the ubiquitous Astor Piazzolla (see Flash Review 1, 4-3: Getting Piazzolla), is fun to watch but not as resonant as the rest of the program. The highlight occurs when three men dance with one woman, the men dancing with her like a six-armed Don Juan, or like one man reflected three times in a fun house mirror. For me, this piece got a little too ice-dance-ish in the end with lots of busy crosses and repetitive flourishes, fed perhaps by the catchy but melodramatic music.

"Sea Green and Blue Already Rising," another of the night's new pieces, seemed preoccupied by our word-saturated culture. A creation of The Foundry, in collaboration with King's dancers, this piece is dominated by flailing and pictures of dancers in solitude, alienated. A voice-over comments ponderously, "Is my song rich enough to hold you?" and later "Do you love God?" This piece has promise but did not quite gel together all its elements for me.

The dancers of this company are amazing. Their brand of Ballet doesn't just "use" elements of African and other styles, it creates moments of pure joy on stage that absolutely captivate. With dancers like this, who needs words?

LINES plays at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through April 16. For more information, go to http://www.linesballet.org/performance.

(Editor's Note: Jordan Winer teaches English and Poetry at Berkeley High School. He also works as a theatre director. His last production was "The Miser" for Theatre in the Open in Newburyport, Mass. As a dancer he has worked in Summer Ulrickson's company Torque, with which he performed in the show, "Re-Play." We are quite pleased to welcome Jordan to the Flash ranks!)

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