Alonzo King’s Intersecting LINES : Dance: The choreographer, whose troupe is at the Irvine Barclay Theatre tonight, is interested in what unites people.
Don’t ask choreographer Alonzo King to describe what his ballets look like.
“I can’t describe movements,” he insists. “For me, that’s appearance stuff. My obsession is getting behind appearances to the essence of something. It’s just like when you meet people: It’s not about how they look; it’s about, do I trust this person? Is there sincerity there? Is there something we have in common?”
King brings LINES Contemporary Ballet, his 13-member, San Francisco-based troupe, to the Irvine Barclay Theatre tonight. The performance is part of the Feet First Contemporary Dance Series presented by Irvine Barclay and UC Irvine Cultural Events.
A popular, widely known ballet teacher as well as choreographer and former dancer, King founded the small but respected company in 1982. Since then, many of his works have been acquired by such noted organizations as the Frankfurt and Joffrey ballets.
While King won’t characterize his kinesthetic style--except to say that it’s “right now,” of the “moment"--dance critics credit him for breaking ballet’s rigid boundaries and for his use of unorthodox, abstract steps and group formations.
Times dance writer Lewis Segal in 1992 wrote that King adds “a torso-driven, Afro-centric impetus to the linear, pose-oriented European ballet vocabulary.”
An immediately personable, albeit strong-minded man, King, who declined to give his age, happily discusses the “essence” of his dances, such as “Compelling Geological Evidence.” The major new work, completed last year, will be danced here along with “Bach Cello Suite,” set to Bach’s music.
“CGE,” as he calls it, has been mistakenly interpreted as a ballet about earthquakes. Rather, he said during a recent phone interview from his San Francisco home, it’s about a scientific search--akin to his own philosophical quest--for the deeper truths hidden beneath facades.
In “CGE,” King brings East Indian scientist Chandra Bose to life in the form of a dancer wearing a hard hat with a miner’s lamp attached. Bose, King said, asserted that there is not a single “inanimate object on the planet” and that even rocks, like plants, animals and human beings, contain “vibrancy and life and history.”
“Bose invented the crescograph,” King said, “which illuminated the life behind what we term inanimate objects, and revealed, for instance, that metal has a point of exhaustion, and that plants have emotional life.”
The scientist further contended that this pervasive life force connects all things, another idea that’s in sync with King’s credo.
“It’s the things that unite us and what we have in common that interest me,” he said, explaining that the word lines in his troupe’s name alludes to this uniting “lineage.”
King espouses his tenets at the San Francisco Institute of Choreography, a company school he established in 1989. Another notion he said he puts forth there is that art is not optional, but “a necessity.”
“When we think of choreography as the arrangement of mass designed for visual comfort, rather than determined by the logic of a given content, we are saying that the purpose of art is to please, that art is a luxury. No. It should inform, enlighten, open doors. If it’s not useful, what’s the point of it?”
King, born in Alberta, Ga., studied at top ballet schools in New York City before brief dancing stints in the ‘70s and early ‘80s with such troupes as the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the defunct Inner City Repertory, run by UC Irvine professor Donald McKayle (King will be in residency at UC Irvine in late May) and the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company.
He credits Lewitzky, who gives all students teacher training, for his induction into teaching, through which he met dancers around the world. They, in turn, recommended him to the troupe artistic directors who have acquired his works.
Lewitzky, in a recent phone conversation, described King as “a phenomenal dancer, and the way in which he put movement together was always fascinating to me. He was original, inventive, quite something of his own.”
King, who said his father was a civil rights leader who worked and traveled with Malcolm X, is grateful to his parents for the way they influenced his attitude about life and art.
“They were incredibly beautiful, open, honest people who lived with conviction.”
He bristles somewhat at the question of whether being an African American has also influenced his work, again stressing the superficiality of appearances. But he doesn’t deny it has had a impact.
“I don’t think all day long about the fact that I’m a man, or a black--those are all appearances. But from those appearances, there is information,” he said. “Experiencing prejudice, that’s information, and I’m interested in getting the best information from all cultures and experiences.”
* LINES Contemporary Ballet performs tonight at 8 at Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. $15 to $25. (714) 854-4646.