Lines Ballet at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Lines Ballet


The sounds of paradise

This past weekend Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet presented their spring season at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The featured world premiere was Biophony, a joyous nine-part piece, set to the soundscapes of Bernie Krause, which celebrated the vibrant “animalness” of the human body.

A soundscape according to the program notes “refers to every sound that comes to us at once.” In these soundscapes Krause has travelled globally recording and arranging the sounds of rare habitats, including the rain forests of Borneo, the tundra of the Yukon, late afternoon near a waterhole in Kenya, a meadow in the high Sierra, swarming African bees at Gombe. There are moments of rain and thunder, a polyphony of animal cries, and the occasional human sounds of music, assembled in this case by British composer Richard Blackford.

For the most part, however, the music of Biophony is that of the natural world. It would not be too much to say, that the natural world is Krause’s passion, and his mission is to remind us of the intrinsic beauty, interest and diversity of the sounds that the planet and its inhabitants yield up to each other. In his book, The Great Animal Orchestra, Krause points out the changes in the soundscape of a habitat as it becomes degraded. Surely, this is another reminder of our need to reevaluate the values and practices of our society.

You might wonder how a choreographer sets dance steps to the vocalizations of animals and nature? King has done this very directly by using the movements of the animals portrayed in sync with the sounds those animals made. And even without the adorable costumes – abstracted leggings and tutus of feathers – it’s clear that what we see on stage are our various animal cousins as they stretch, strut and stalk across the vivid green- and blue-lit shadows on the other side of the proscenium. Those movements are integrated into the rhythms of human dance; the vocabulary has changed but the dance training hasn’t, so that in the midst of the humor and careful analysis, a poignantly human integrity holds every gesture and every calculated tumble into an elegant whole.

The opening cricket’s cry is matched by slight spasmodic tremblings. Arms lift as if they were wings and a neck twists percussively. And who are these muddy looking creatures in their slick gray togs crawling across the floor and each other? Another creature turns one-armed cartwheels, his legs bent, slowly out of and into darkness. Thunder booms out and a dancer spins. A pink-feather skirted dancer shivers under green to the light trill of birds. And there’s that long-legged frog – oh, he’s splendid! – dancing under the chaotic spotlights of the moon through clouds. A frenzy of bees has a passel of dancers racing across the stage. Whales howl, and the company emerges into its own carefully drawn panorama of creature beauty.

It’s a garden of earthly delights.

Like Bosch’s wonderful painting representing a paradise lost, it is grotesque, erotic, wildly imaginative and mind-bogglingly beautiful. Like King’s choreography, it’s inventive and sly, demanding the best of the best dancing. And like Rosenwasser’s designs, it’s stylish and spare. All together wonderful.


All that and Philharmonia Baroque

The program opened with the musicians from the Philharmonia Baroque playing the fourth movement of Handel’s Trio Sonata Op. 2 No. 1 in B Minor, followed immediately by Concerto for Two Violins, a 2013 three-part piece choreographed by King to Bach’s concerto. The piece opened with three couples led by the powerfully built Babatunji dancing in counterpoint to the ensemble. The Largo section was graced by a quartet with Kara Wilkes, Laura O’Malley, Robb Beresford and Michael Montgomery. The four danced while only occasionally losing physical touch between each other, a hand on a knee, an arm around a waist; it was intricate and achingly intimate. Adji Cissoko and Courtney Henry led the ensemble in the closing movement with poise and impressive technique.


– Jaime Robles            


Photo: Robb Beresford (left), Babatunji, Michael Montgomery perform in the Lines Ballet world premiere of Biophony. Photo by Quinn B. Wharton