On making work, San Francisco-based choreographer-artistic director Alonzo King of LINES Ballet insists “my experience has been that working with collaborators in whatever field, you realize you are doing the same thing.” He proves this to be true in many of his collaborative undertakings. Just one of many lauded examples is “Biophony,” a 2015 collaboration with natural soundscape artist Bernie Krause and composer Richard Blackford, which the San Francisco Chronicle called “riveting.”
Bassist Edgar Meyer, jazz composer Jason Moran and architect Christopher Haas are a few from King’s long list of collaborators. For their New York season at the Joyce (May 5 to 10), the collaborator is the novelist Colum McCann, with whom King created “Writing Ground” in 2010 through a commission for Les Ballet de Monte-Carlo. McCann created poetry that “provided a doorway to begin,” says King. Here are a few lines taken from McCann’s “Writing Ground” offered in the program:
“The necessity of flight.
“There are times I will need ropes and ladders and caribiners and helmets just to climb down into myself
“She would put her bare hands in the syrup of her own body
“She sat so still in the courtyard that everyone knew she wasn’t there.”
The work is episodic, telling story after story in 14 scenarios, each with new dialogue. Grounded movement pulls from visceral vestiges and is matched by early sacred music (Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Tibetan Buddhist traditions) throughout. In some sections, the dancers are terse, snake-like, and their limbed maneuverings evoke a multitude of emotions.
In the men’s quintet, for instance, individually and as an ensemble, their bodies speak through suspended turns and breathtaking balances complimented with guttural hums by Richard Kaplan. The men are Michael Montgomery, Babatunji, Robb Beresford, Shuaib Elhassan and Nicholas Koros.
Like twins, the long-legged Adji Cissoko and Courtney Henry radiate unspoken words when paired. And at the end, Henry manages to be beautiful as a somewhat maniacal rag doll manipulated by four men (Elhassan, Montgomery, Beresford and Jeffrey Van Sciver). A match for McCann’s last words? He writes: “She looked as if she had, at last, discovered the right question.”
There was lovely dancing in the other works by King, “Concerto for Two Violins,” an ode to Sebastian Bach and George Balanchine, and “Men’s Quintet,” which closely resembled the quintet in “Writing Ground.” King’s choreography is deserving of the attention it garners, but so too is the delivery by each dancer—Babatunji, Beresford, Cissoko, Madeline Devries, Elhassan, Henry, Yujin Kim, Koros, Montgomery, Laura O’Malley, Van Sciver and Kara Wilkes. They are fabulous.