Internationally renowned as a thinker, choreographer, artist, and teacher, Alonzo King’s ballets bring new awareness to the form. Beginning his San Francisco company, Alonzo King LINES Ballet in 1982, King has long championed an approach that grounds and embeds inquiry within ideas of transcendence. His works call upon legacies found in our collective bodily histories, importantly integrating music, belief systems, and ideascapes that are not bound to the singular, and yet place primacy on the uniqueness of individuals. King’s ballets are harbingers of the future as they presently challenge our conceptions of what ballet can be in order to expand its pathways.
King’s work undoubtedly trains bodies in new ways through an investigatory process that displaces and supersedes techniques. This is not standard operating procedure in the ballet world which designates its spaces for skill acquisition rather than personal introspection. He is inspired by nature and frequently uses universal concepts to clarify ideas, for instance the ballet movement that many know to be termed “pirouette” is a whirlpool for King. In so doing, he corporealizes thoughts, and has developed a philosophy of movement that is distinctly focused on process and experience. He works with dancers who feed off this approach as it is so far afield from the traditions of mimicry often located in the ballet studio space. And the dancers feed King. He is curious, and always considering how he can guide dancers to do more. As a result, dancing in a King ballet is doing more; it is working in a way that requires multiple vocabularies and understandings of the world.
Visually King’s ballets counter classical work in countless ways that are obvious to even casual ballet-going audiences. He makes use of both parallel and turned out positions; he mines the levels of vertical space, particularly low levels and floorwork; he sets pas de deux that invite new relationships to unfold between partners; he choreographs instability so a dancer on pointe doesn’t hold an arabesque with assurance waiting for the photo, but shows the fragility of bearing weight on the tip of the toe; and he has cultivated a language of port de bras that incorporates strong flexed wrists with reaching arms and undulant torsos. Thus the ballets he makes take us in many directions, and yet they do so to ultimately bring us together.
Erudite and innovative, Alonzo King has revolutionized ballet in the U.S. and our engagement with it. His working process is distinct from ballet as he embraces movement patterns that shift perspectives. King has been incorporating these concepts into his praxis for decades and his choreography is informed by his own yoga practice as well as the guiding principles of Yogananda. The body of work King has created serves as a testament to his prolific tenure as the sole artistic director of a ballet company for four decades, as well as his commitment to bring into ballet the idea that art is limitless if we allow it to be.
Article by Dr. Jill Nunes Jensen, AKLB scholar, Co-Editor The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet
Featured photo: Alonzo King teaching class at Alonzo King LINES Ballet, photo (c) Lisa Voll.