Dancing to the light of Jason Moran
For his fall 2009 season Alonzo King, the choreographer who likes to collaborate with the world, has chosen a closer-to-home partner for his premier piece. New York–based jazz pianist Jason Moran composed the music that accompanies King’s new ballet Refraction, a meditation in shifting space and form performed by the gorgeously limbed dancers of Lines Ballet. For the first weekend of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts run, Moran and Tarus Maseen, bass, and Nasheet Waits, drums, joined the company with a live performance of the music.
Refractions opens on a darkened stage with three dancers. Two of these dancers are captured in the glare of a spotlight to stage right of center. As the lit figures enwrap each other, their torsos contorting in inward gesture, the piano’s music moves forward in spare phrases. Smoke seems to surround the dancers, drifting delicately from the wings. The movement, like the music, flows naturally but unpredictably between the separate dancers—no familiar dance vocabulary is dominant, rather, the movements seem to be perfect intersections of classical and modern dance, the lineaments of neither being entirely recognizable.
Likewise, the concerted movement between dancers follows no clichéd form, or even any form distinctly derived from classical dance. What we have instead is a continuous falling away from the familiar. At one point a woman’s ponytail becomes the fulcrum between a man and a woman in their pas de deux. The head becomes another fulcrum in a pas de cinq.
Speed is what balances the unfamiliarity of the movement, keeps us enthralled with the shifting lines of the bodies, rather than questioning or analyzing their history or connections. And speed is what gives the collective movement of the dancers a sense of rightness, of naturalness, of inevitability, even though each individual dancer is creating his or her own domain of movement separate from but in juxtaposition to others. That all of these exotically personal movements work together flawlessly seems nearly miraculous.
The soloist is foregrounded. Bret Conway’s solo evokes the hieroglyphic, as if he were tracing out a poem come to life on the walls of an Egyptian temple. Corey Scott-Gilbert unfurls in a silky solo. In ensemble each dancer appears and disappears against the background of other bodies or simply the stage’s dark shadows.
Axel Morgenthaler’s lighting emphasizes the dancers’ bodies. Every muscle and tendon in the dancers’ bodies appears in high relief under the bright side lighting from the wings; the light white in the beginning of the piece, and then turning red during a prolonged and seductive drum accompaniment. Rods of light descend from the heights of the stage only to ascend again, enigmatically, suggesting some inscrutable but divine message. Rectangles of light are defined into existence by the floor on which the dancers move, and then disappear
The Moroccan Project.
The second half of the program presented The Moroccan Project (2005), accompanied by a five-musician Moroccan band, with vocal renditions of blessings. The dancing, as if to present the opposite to Refraction, was more classically framed, both in its steps and in its ensemble interactions. Either way, this is a company of ferocious beauty and skill, led by a choreographer who understands not only the dancer’s body and its capabilities but also how space and form can be shaped into a language that is both elegant and soulful.
Originally published in the Piedmont Post