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ARTICLE: Back in San Diego, Alonzo King LINES Ballet showcases 40 years of dance

San Diego Union-Tribune

Marcia Luttrell
January 16, 2022

In an excerpt from “Rasa,” for instance, one of the program’s featured dances, a long-limbed, sinewy couple stay connected as they pull, push and twirl each other in a slow, undulating performance that expresses dependence, rejection, frustration and compassion.

They are athletic but deliberate in a dance that appears uncontrived, as if the pair are completely unaware of being observed.

It’s a soulful movement language that words fail to capture, and yet it’s Alonzo King’s signature, identifying his contemporary ballet company as one of the most renowned dance organizations in the world.

The company will dance works from its nearly 40-year history in a concert presented by the La Jolla Music Society on Thursday at the San Diego Civic Theatre.

“We have been creating, developing and playing with language since the beginning of LINES,” King says. “When I’m working, I’m trying to find clarity, hopefully, to play with new ground, to experiment, as well as to make ideas clear.”

King’s many accolades include a Master of Choreography from the Kennedy Center, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Doris Duke Artist Award.

When asked, he rejects articulating his choreographic preferences.

“I don’t work that way,” he says. “We are not playing ‘Simon Says.’ Our own thoughts tend to be like a loop — I want to dive in for deeper and more interesting thoughts. That means that, as the beautiful saying goes, the muse enters when the vase is empty. I’m not interested in what I like or dislike. I’m interested in trying to build some truths.”

The LINES dancers are obviously skilled in a range of jazz, ballet and contemporary dance techniques. But King also values accuracy in terms of form and proportion — and the ability to “inhabit the meaning of dance passages.”

“Truth is the principal thing,” King explains. “In dancing, you are seeing who people are because dancers dance their consciousness. They can’t hide. It’s rare to see sincerity, particularly after someone has become ‘sophisticated.’ If you see humility, it can break your heart. And so those qualities and character traits are what we are looking at — they are an equal part of what the choreographer’s ideas are on stage.”

The second half of the LINES Ballet performance will showcase “Azoth” (2019), a full-company work accompanied by a jazz score by saxophonist Charles Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran.

Azoth is a poetic term for mercury, and among ancient philosophers, it was a transformational substance that supported physical and spiritual perfection. King’s dances often reflect a combination of Eastern and Western philosophies, global influences and a unique combination of classical ballet with African, jazz and Eastern movement styles.

His dances are accompanied by a diverse range of musical genres, including classical compositions by Gabriel Fauré and George Frideric Handel, along with works by Japanese classical composer Somei Satoh, Nubian oud master Hamza El Din and Indian tabla virtuoso, Zakir Hussain.

King grew up in Georgia, and many of his family members were civil rights activists who lived their truth.

His grandfather, Clennon Washington (C.W.) King, Sr., assisted in launching a local chapter of the NAACP. His mother, Valencia King Nelson, helped to establish a way for Blacks to research their genealogy. And his father, activist Slater King, was the president of the Albany Movement, which represented a group of Black organizations that supported de-segregation. King’s father was known on more than one occasion to share a jail cell with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil unrest in the 1960s.

After high school, King wanted to devote himself to a career in dance.

“My grandmother and grandfather, they met a Tuskegee University and that education thing was big in my family,” King says.

Dancer Adji Cissoko of Alonzo King LINES Ballet
(RJ Muna)

“My mother and father met at Fisk University, and he went on to Oberlin. I didn’t want to go to university and my father said, ‘You should do what you want.’ Mother said, ‘Please go. Just for one year!’ I got scholarships, and she was ‘Don’t waste this.’ But I wasn’t into it.”

King’s father encouraged him to try yoga, and his parents ultimately supported his desire for a career in the arts.

After training with New York and European companies, he moved to San Francisco and, in 1982, established LINES Ballet, home to nationally recognized dance education and community programs, including the joint BFA Program in Dance with the Dominican University of California. His choreographic works are included in the repertories of many dance companies, including Joffrey Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Hong Kong Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.

A devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda, King said that he often visits the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas.

King sees dance and other forms of self-expression as being a vehicle for evolution.

“My parents were artists. Ghandi was an artist. Martin Luther King Jr. was an artist. When anyone is in a serious relationship, after the honeymoon is over, they realize that life is really about self-reform. That is art making. You are removing from the painting what’s not working so that brilliance can be there. How do we do that? We do that with our own lives because the highest art is the art of living. This is what yoga completely answers, succinctly and profoundly. So, this idea of art making as being only on stages, only in songs, poems, novels and paintings — I don’t buy it. It’s how you live your life.”

La Jolla Music Society presents Alonzo King LINES Ballet

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown

Tickets: $48 to $88

Online: ljms.org

Luttrell is a freelance writer.