Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

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World premiere of Shostakovich

The sleek and talented dancers of Lines Ballet presented another Alonzo King world premiere to a full house this past weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater. The premiere, Shostakovich, opened the program, Set to various movements of String Quartets 2, 3, 7 and 8, though not in that order, Shostakovich combines the darker shades of the music with King’s dynamic and sensual choreography.

The piece opens and closes with the Allegro (I) and Largo movements (V) from the often-played 8th Quartet, which Shostakovich dedicated as ‘In Remembrance of the Victims of Fascism and War’. During these parts the entire company is on stage, either echoing each other’s movements, as in the first section, or working in groups dancing the same steps in sync while soloists move to their own variations, as in the last section. The orgiastic beginning settles down to pattern and stability at the piece’s close.

The steps are never far from ballet – the women wear pointe shoes – but the movements are unfailingly contemporary, with an emphasis on speed and open movement that reaches to the extremes possible by lean and long-limbed dancers. But unlike other contemporary choreographers there is something slightly feral about King’s sense of movement – something that borders on both the high-spirited and the dangerous.

The central section of Shostakovich builds slowly out of male/female duets, which seem linked to the 2nd Quartet’s sweet violin passages and deep-voiced instruments with their simple, sustained chords.

Two men enter the stage, one of them is carrying a long pole of neon light, which he handles as if it were a part of his body, an emanation reaching out into the darker shading of the stage. Other dancers enter and leave the stage as he continues his slow search, connecting and disconnecting from the long thin column of light that he holds in his hands. His body seems powerful, unstoppable, but outlandish and elemental in its calculated dance with the light.

The middle section ended with an extraordinary pas de deux by Kara Wilkes and Robb Beresford.

One of the defining characteristics of this dance company is its minimalist approach to sets and lighting, which lies in the domain of Creative Director Robert Rosenwasser. His austere and pure aesthetic becomes the pensive backdrop to the dynamic tangle of music and dancers on stage. David Finn designed the lighting.

Shostakovich opens with a single horizontal bar of light that reaches the full width of the stage lies across the floor at the back of the stage. As the work proceeds the bar slowly lifts until it is some four-fifths of the way above the floor. Its brightness varies. Halfway through the piece the light fades and the bar seems to be an unilluminated white. Simultaneously, gangly skeletons of plants descend from the lighting grid above the stage to provide an ethereal backdrop. The bar becomes the horizon line of some inverted world, and the dancers the angelic presences in an upside-down alien world.

As the piece ends the bar begins to glow and the backstage scrim glows yellow turning the two last dancers into silhouettes, deep shadows on a plane of vivid color.

The second half of the program was Rasa, the 2007 collaboration with composer Zakir Hussain. Hussain is one of the world virtuosi of classical Indian percussion. He is sought after for his collaborative musicianship, playing with jazz musicians John MacLaughlin and Charles Lloyd, among others. For this performance, he joined Indian violinist Kala Ramnath, and both musicians sang and vocalized along with their instrumental work.

The nine-part ballet was danced barefoot and was earthier and more exuberant – there was something almost playful about the curling and expanding, leaping energy of the dancers. But anyway you slice it, these are awe-inspiring dancers. They don’t wear much in the way of costumes, so every muscle and sinew is available for admiration. And it’s pleasing merely to contemplate the spectrum of their skin colors, which under the stage lights ranges from dark chocolate to neon white. In every sense possible they do honor to the beauty of the human body.

– Jaime Robles

The fall season of Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet continues through November 23. For tickets and information, visit

Photo: (l to r) Robb Beresford and Courtney Henry perform in the world premiere of Shostakovich

Photo by Quinn B. Wharton