A conversation with choreographer Alonzo King

Alonzo King recently celebrated his 30th anniversary as a force in the San Francisco dance community and beyond. Since founding Alonzo King LINES Ballet in 1982, his undulating and often philosophical contemporary ballets have been performed by major international companies including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Béjart Ballet Lausanne and Hong Kong Ballet.

This spring, audiences can see the results of one of his latest projects: a ballet created for and performed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and LINES—two companies located more than 2,000 miles apart and nearly as distant in aesthetic. Hubbard Street’s artistic director Glenn Edgerton initiated this rare partnership in 2010, and in late August 2012, both companies met for three weeks to set the final work for a February premiere in Berkeley, California. With some original music by San Francisco composer Ben Juodvalkis, the new work (untitled as of press time) pairs all 12 members of LINES with 16 (of 18) members of Hubbard Street, challenging ballet and modern performers to dance as one ensemble. Chicago audiences can see the work this month at the Harris Theater. Dance Teacher spoke with King during the late stages of the partnership.

Dance Teacher: What has been most challenging about the collaboration?

Alonzo King: Coordinating our schedules. Time for both companies is very scarce because we work all the time and tour a lot. Before the official collaboration, Glenn asked me to set my piece Following the Subtle Current Upstream, so I could get to know his company. I thought the idea was brilliant and also incredibly generous.

For the new work, I started with Hubbard Street and filmed it, then taught my company, and vice versa, until we were able to get together. We convened for three weeks in Irvine, CA, away from both of our homes, which made it more interesting. No one was comfortable, we were all staying at a hotel and working at the University of California, Irvine, studios. We singularly focused on building that work, and all the designers came in and stayed there. It was very intense.

Hubbard Street and LINES dancers at the University of California, Irvine, studios

DT: Has the work changed since your initial meeting?

AK: Often when you’re creating a work, there is an emergence of what the work is, outside of what you thought it was going to be. And you have to honor that. I like to see what all the possibilities are and play up to the very end.

Initially Glenn had the idea of showing the differences between our companies, but I don’t find that as intriguing as commonality. A good dancer is a good dancer. I’m interested in any dancer who has the ability to manipulate energies in any way, and if you’re a good artist, there’s nothing you cannot do. I wasn’t interested in this company or that one. I was interested in a group of dancers becoming one.

DT: What do you value most in a dancer?

AK: I take technique for granted. Any professional dancer has to have a formidable technique. But the most important qualities are the ones that no one can give you: character. How often do you see sincerity, honesty, fearlessness, compassion, humility—those should be the aim of a dancer’s training. So that at the end of her training, she becomes a bigger thinker, a deeper feeling human being. Because what are we seeing onstage? We’re watching who they are. You can see when someone’s afraid, just as you can see when someone’s hiding and trying to dazzle you with the wizardry of mechanical techniques.

DT: You often teach pre-professionals. What have you learned as a teacher?

AK: When you’re looking at students, they can’t hide because you see everything. But in that same vein, neither can you as the teacher. Students are always scrutinizing and seeing your character. So we constantly have to work on who we are. Regardless of what you may say, a student knows if you believe in her or not. I think you should never underestimate students, regardless of how they’re performing. Because what’s latent in them, given time, in their own interest, will bloom. DT

From top: photo by RJ Muna, courtesy of LINES Ballet; courtesy of Jessie Ryan and Jennifer Lott, University of California, Irvine

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