Face to Face: All the Possibilities

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

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Misti Ridge teaches class at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. Photo by Arlyn Lawrence , courtesy of Ridge

The dance teachers who work with kids ages 5–7 have earned themselves a special place in dance heaven. They give artists the foundation for their future with impossibly high energy and even higher voices. Enthusiasm is their game, and talent is their aim! Well, that, self-esteem, a love for dance, discipline and so much more!

These days, teachers often go a step beyond giving tiny dancers technical and performative bases and make them strong enough to actually compete at a national level—we're talking double-pirouettes-by-the-time-they're-5-years-old type of competitive.

We caught up with one such teacher, Misti Ridge from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, The Dance Awards 2019 and 2012 Studio of The Year, to get the inside scoop on how she does it. The main takeaway? Don't underestimate your baby competition dancers—those 5- to 7-year-olds can work magic.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Patrick Randak, Courtesy In The Lights PR

The ability to communicate clearly is something I've been consumed with for as long as I can remember. I was born in the Bronx and always loved city living. But when I was 9, a family crisis forced my mom to send me to Puerto Rico to live with my grandparents. I only knew one Spanish word: "hola." I remember the frustration and loneliness of having so many thoughts and feelings and not being able to express them.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

It's the middle of the semester and two dancers are sitting out of class, you're worried about one student's mental health and another has developed an eating disorder. Sound familiar? College can be a tumultuous time. To help address the additional demands of being a dance major, some schools have found strategies for enhancing wellness and integrating health services into their departments.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox