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Last updated: May 12, 2012 1:19 am
In certain respects, Alonzo King’s troupe is leagues ahead of the competition. In others, this 30-year-old San Francisco institution is stuck in a rut.
While the leading US companies, with their major funding, remain lily-white up and down the ranks, this heterogeneous ensemble of 13 stupendous dancers resembles America. King’s musical choices extend farther, making a powerful case for north Indian ragas and Nubian instrumentals as ballet music. Renowned tabla player Zakir Hussain’s score for King’s Scheherazade – one of two recent works that make up the Joyce programme (to Sunday) – sweetly avenges ballet’s long history of orientalism. The composer returns to the source with Indian tabla and Middle Eastern reeds while acknowledging Scheherazade’s life in the west by snagging an “exotic” melody from the Fokine ballet of 1910.
Yet thwarting these welcome elements is the choreographer’s style. The movement winds and unwinds around the body like a yo-yo on a short string. It is all push and pull. Moments of release, in which lyricism and uncertainty come into play, are largely confined to standouts Caroline Rocher and Michael Montgomery, as well as those moments when everyone dances together. Then the stage resembles a Jackson Pollock, full of flicker and fling.
When the dancers are solo or in small groups, you notice that they direct their gaze down towards their own bodies in a gesture of self-absorption. In the evening’s Resin, only the music – Sephardic song and plainchant – aspires to the spiritual. The dancing sticks to the flesh. In its predictable pattern of coiling and uncoiling, the movement also precludes suspense, without which Scheherazade, for example, would not have survived a single night. So much for King’s homage to this consummate storyteller.
King may have made inroads into the ballet idiom, adding winging African arms and women who can sustain long balances on pointe without aid, but he has relinquished too many of its special powers. He should look to his company co-founder and creative director Robert Rosenwasser, who designed the peacock-feather tutus and leotards of pure chiffon. These gorgeous costumes both invoke history and take a leap forward.
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