Alonzo King Lines Ballet
Concerto for Two Violins, Men’s Quintet, Writing Ground
Cannes, Palais des Festivals
3 December 2014
Alonzo King Lines Ballet is one of the few international dance companies to make regular visits to France, touring throughout the country as well as appearing in Paris. The company appears regularly at international festivals, and performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 2010. A popular visitor to Cannes, the company was welcomed with a packed house for their new triple bill programme. A former dancer with American Ballet Theatre and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Alonzo King founded the company in San Francisco in 1982 where it is now part of an extensive organisation, including a school and a dance programme at the Dominican University of California.
King’s choreography is both classical and contemporary-based as well as being influenced by his African-American roots. The company of twelve dancers is an interesting multi-racial mix and the themes and composers for his ballets often come from different cultures and backgrounds. The dancers are exceptionally lithe and long-legged, obviously well-trained classical dancers with beautifully stretched feet and legs but also capable of extraordinary flexibility.
The programme at the Palais des Festivals opened with Concerto for Two Violins, to the same music by J. S. Bach chosen by Balanchine for Concerto Barocco and Paul Taylor for Esplanade. On an open stage the dancers looked sleek, yet classical, the women in black backless leotards, the men in black briefs and, with the opening bars of the music, the movement exploded with a dynamic and almost sensual feeling of joy. The women are not on pointe, but the choreography is classical and embellished with contemporary fluidity, with each dancer allotted their own movements, very precise and very fast. As the work develops this self-involvement brings about a lack of contact, both with the audience and with each other. They dance the many duets together, but not with each other, each performer remaining totally involved in his or her own sequence of steps. However, all twelve dancers have strong individual personalities and they are well served by King with choreography which suits their individual styles. Most have come to the company through the school and, performing only King’s work, they are perfect instruments for his choreography. However, the two leading women in this ballet, Laura O’Malley and Kara Wilkes, have worked with other companies, both in the States and in Europe, and this experience shows in their more confident allure.
The following work, the very short Men’s Quintet, is apparently an excerpt from a longer ballet. The five men appear to be prisoners or even slaves, dressed in ragged trousers, although the programme notes speak of both ‘interior geometry’ and ‘universal geometry’ and that King sees each dancer as a ‘ray of light’. I’m not sure if I follow this but it showed the quality of the male dancers, well-built, well-trained and showing a great sense of commitment to their solos, duets and ensemble work.
Writing Ground was the final work, and also the major work of the evening. It was originally commissioned by the Monaco Dance Forum and first performed in Monte-Carlo in 2013. It is set to sacred music from different cultures, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Tibetan Buddhist, all surprisingly quite similar but which I found made for a rather heavy going 45 minutes. The dancing is really very good, with great emphasis given to the quality of movement and its execution: pirouettes are always spot on, balances held just to the very last moment, the men have big, soft jumps and the women, here on pointe, are both strong and gently lyrical. However, the choreography just goes on and on with no light and shade. It does not build to climaxes, or have quiet moments before a change of mood, it simply carries on until it stops. King writes that Writing Ground is inspired by the poems of Colum McCann. I must admit I only know the Irish writer from his fictional biography of Nureyev and I, and I’m sure many in the audience, would have benefited from a few snippets of his poetry. There was much anguish in the pas de deux, and especially in the long final scene with the very beautiful Kara Wilkes supported by four men. She is constantly falling, crumpling to the floor, to be lifted and straightened out again by the men, only to collapse, over and over again. It made for a low-key evening, with little to enjoy apart from the opening ballet, where the initial ‘joie de vivre’ also faded after the opening movement.
Writing Ground would certainly have gained from a more balanced programme, one which the company is performing throughout the winter in half a dozen different countries.