Sunday, August 3, 2003

Ballet director seeks fearless, humble dancers

By Carol Norris
Enquirer contributor

Ballet galas are events to showcase some of the world's greatest dancers in classical ballet's grandest pas de deux.

They are occasions for people to ooh and aah at the technical wizardry and artistic dazzle it takes to pull off celebrated chestnuts that date back as much as 100 years. The most satisfying galas also include the latest in dances for two, and this year's Gala of International Ballet Stars should be satisfying indeed.

Alonzo King's LINES Ballet is a mere babe in the timeline of the classical dance world. As a vehicle for King's creations, his company does nothing that's older than 1982, the year it was formed in San Francisco. Two of his works will be on the program, "Who Dressed You Like a Foreigner" and "Stealing Light," performed by Xavier Ferla, Laurel Keen, Brett Conway and Prince Credell.

How does he define ballet, whether old or new?

"It's western classical," he said by phone recently. He was in New York to create a new piece for the Alvin Ailey company. When not working with his company, he's working on something new for somebody else; his choreography is in the repertories of more than 50 companies.

He explained that every culture has its classical dance form - from India to Africa. The way we interpret our own "physiognomy" (a big word for individual characteristics) depends on where we are and our particular point of view. Hence his term "western classical" for ballet, a technique developed in Europe hundreds of years ago and practiced most places these days.

But don't try to categorize his take on ballet as modern.

"It either makes sense or it doesn't. Modern and classical work together. The Swan Lake (1800s) pas de deux without the tutu looks incredibly modern. If you break down Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments" (1946) it's called neoclassical, but it looks modern. It's kind of like people saying what race we are, when we are all really a mix of things."

Trained at the School of American Ballet in New York, the California native established his own company on the West Coast. His women dance on pointe, the men can leap and turn like well-trained ballet males everywhere, but his search for good dancers goes beyond technique. He looks for the same things in his dancers that he looks for in people he likes to be around.

"I look for courage and fearlessness ... a humanity in their dancing and a humility onstage so they get out of the way of the idea," King said. "The bottom line is the communication of ideas."

"Dance is taking thought and making it visible - whether it's something as lighthearted as a cocktail conversation or as serious as life and death that you're dealing with. The goal is to actually get to a place that is inexpressible in words, where you have to move or make music," he explained.

And music - world, classical, African or Indian drumming - influences all his work. "Music is the world that the dancer lives in," he said.

King encourages his dancers to make musical choices. "Dancing that begins on the note and ends on the note is obvious," he said, an approach he finds boring. He wants dancers who bring their individuality to the music. Rather than dancing like metronomes, he likes to see a more expansive approach in a discovery to find their own voice.

Newer ballet works are often called abstract, but he avoids that label as firmly as he does the modern one.

"Abstract - what does that say? There's nothing that doesn't mean something. Even in algebra a symbol has a meaning," he said.

This brought the conversation back to his foremost goal - the communication of ideas.

"I'm reading a book, Talks with Great Composers (by Arthur M. Abell; Citadel Press; $16.95 paperback) and they talk about receiving information.

"You realize after so many years that you're not really doing anything - the real stuff is usually a gift," King said. "It comes from a lifetime of digging to find the gold. In the end we're after truth, we're after beauty."

If you go

What: Second annual Gala of International Ballet Stars, co-sponsored by ballet tech ohio, Cincinnati, and BalletMet, Columbus.

When/where: 8 p.m. Friday, Ohio Theatre, Columbus; 8 p.m., Saturday, Aronoff Center Procter & Gamble Hall.

Tickets: Columbus - $25-$75, (614) 229-4848 or (614) 469-0939. Cincinnati - $35, $45 and $55, 241-7469. Reception to meet the artists after concert $25.

Performing: Xavier Ferla, Laurel Keen, Brett Conway and Prince Credell in "Who Dressed You Like a Foreigner" and "Stealing Light." Mireille Hassenboehler and Simon Ball, Houston Ballet, "Sleeping Beauty. Kristin Long and Joan Boada, San Francisco Ballet, "Le Corsaire." Elizabeth Zengara and Jimmy Orrante, BalletMet Columbus, "Dracula." Bridget Breiner (Stuttgart Ballet) with Ivan Cavallari, "Eugene Onegin." Anastasya Meskova (Bolshoi) and Ilya Kuznetsov (Kirov), "The Black Swan" from Swan Lake. Paloma Herrera and Gennadi Saveliev, American Ballet Theatre, "Don Quixote."

In contemporary works: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Kellye Saunders and Donald Williams and National Ballet of Canada's Chan Han Goh and Geon van der Wyst.


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