This piece was done in collaboration with the Shaolin Monks.
This clip from Scheherazade shows the use of classical, extended lines, formal arrangements, and internal focus common to Alonzo King’s choreography. It also shows how complete dedication to the dance can translate into profound expressive communication from the dancer to the audience.
When Alonzo King decided to dedicate himself to the study of dance after high school, he started at the Harkness School of Ballet, then moved on to the Alvin Ailey Dance School and the School of American Ballet. Between the Ailey School and the School of American Ballet, Alonzo King can claim artistic lineage to some of the greatest dancers, choreographers, and innovators of the 20th Century. Certainly, this provided a stable foundation from which to push into the 21st Century as has been said of King.
While at the Ailey School, King would have been exposed to a style and philosophy that connected directly to Lester Horton. As described in an article in The Guardian entitled “Step-by-step Guide to Dance: Alvin Ailey,” Horton trained Ailey, who later took over his company. The article also references Ailey’s use of ballet in the lower body with its articulation and extended lines, but a freer, modern upper body. In King’s work the strength of Horton-based dance can be easily seen in the impressive physical feats performed by the dancers. King also embraces the technicality and lines of ballet while simultaneously utilizing contractions, angular lines, and unexpected shapes. In King’s work, however, the positions, movements, and philosophies of ballet, modern, and contemporary dance are fully integrated, flowing naturally from one to the next and blurring the boundaries between them. Ailey also incorporated jazz dance, social dance, and ritual dances. Once again King seems to have taken this concept and pushed it to the next level by not only incorporating elements, but fully investigating the dances and art forms from across the human race and collaborating with practitioners of these arts. King’s style resembles the athleticism and physical prowess present in the Ailey style, though King’s sees the performers focused more inward toward truly embodying their art rather than outward to the audience as is common in Ailey’s work.
At the School of American Ballet, King would have been exposed to Balanchine ballet technique. Balanchine revolutionized ballet for the 20th Century, just as King has revolutionized it for the 21st. The stylistic influence can be seen in his use of extended lines and structured arrangements of dancers. The Balanchine philosophy of perfecting the body and discipline for the sake of the art can be seen in King, who will often say that he and his dancers need to work “in service to the art.”
In the book Dance Masters: Interviews with Legends of Dance, Janet Lynn Roseman notes that after this training, King went through a process of “Reexamining the dance training that he had received, and recognizing the training that was lacking for dancers.” King is then quoted as saying “’In my training as a dancer, I found that there were two things that were missing. One was the spiritual force and the other is the concept that “it is within you,” so that the idea of training would be to bring “it” out or to remove the obstacles to do “it.”’” He developed an approach to dancemaking and to training dancers that attempted to address the body, as well as the mind and the spirit. While the mind and spirit were concerns for both Ailey and Balanchine, those elements are easily lost as a school and a technique continue after its creator is gone. Alonzo King, at least, did not feel them present to nearly the levels he considered essential. Instead, he tries to train and nurture the whole dancer so that they in turn can provide a full experience to the audience. He requires physical prowess, an open mind, self-discipline, and a willingness to push past one’s comfort zone. He uses structured improvisation to help his dancers achieve these goals. To further his goals of stimulating the mind and the spirit through his choreography, King has collaborated with artist from around the world. He has entered into collaborative efforts with jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, Japanese composer Miya Masaoka, Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain, and Pygmy artists from the Central African Republic, among others, along with traditional songs from a variety of cultures and times. He brings world cultures to his audience in a form that does not require a translation dictionary. Rather, they speak languages common to all humanity: sound and movement.
An online article from the Washington University in St. Louis eloquently states, “His choreography both embodies and reveals the essential, underlying qualities that define ballet itself — the rigor, the mathematical precision, the sense of proportion rooted in the human body.” Strongly rooted in the history and lineage of his art form, his choreography also embodies and reveals the essential qualities of dance: dedication, wholeness of expressions, endless possibility, and universal human connection.
Roseman, Janet Lynn. Dance Masters: Interviews with Legends of Dance. New York: Routledge, 2001. Web. 27 September 2015. <http://books.google.com>
Otten, Liam. News. “Edison Ovations Series welcomes visionary choreographer.” Washington University in St. Louis: 8 February 2013. Web. 27 September 2015. < http://news.wustl.edu>
Roy, Sanjoy. The Guardian. “Step-by-step Guide to Dance: Alvin Ailey.” Guardian News and Media Limited: 9 September 2010. Web. 27 September 2015. < http://www.theguardian.com>
“Choreography.” Alonzo King Lines Ballet. 2015. Web. 27 September 2015. <https://www.linesballet.org>
Alonzo King was born in 1952 to Valencia King Nelson and Slater King. The family lived first in Georgia, and then moved to Santa Barbara. According to BlackPast.org, his father and uncles were active in the advancement of African American civil rights. His mother created AfriGeneas to track African American genealogy and ancestry. His upbringing would have been immersed in the importance of his cultural roots as well as an eye toward the future. Rather than these elements of past and future working at odds, they complemented and strengthened one another. Perhaps this prepared him even at an early age for his future career of what the Jacob’s Pillow Creativity Award called “moving ballet in a very 21st-century direction.”
Alonzo King has taken the venerable dance tradition of ballet and infused it with “new expressive potential,” as stated by Linesballet.org. To achieve this, King collaborates with artists of various disciplines and cultures and uses structured improvisation. He calls his pieces “thought structures.” Notable works in collaboration with non-western movement traditions include People of the Forest (2001), which was choreographed alongside Baka artists from Central African Republic, and Long River High Sky (2007), which collaborated with Shaolin Monks. He views ballet not as a series of steps with a static aesthetic, but as a system of understanding and organizing space, movement, time, and the body. Linesballet.org calls it “universal, geometric principles of energy and evolution.”
In 1982, King founded the Alonzo King Lines Ballet, a touring company based in San Francisco. Dedicated to realizing King’s vision for an ever-evolving ballet, the company’s artistic vision includes the stated goal “exploring the possibilities of movement from a global perspective, and to renewing – and transcending –traditional ballet.” King’s choreography requires athleticism, flexibility, musicality, intelligence, and training, but in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, he notes that above all, his dancers must possess fearlessness. He continually asks them to reach outside their comfort zones, to commit body and soul to the process, and to be engrossed with their art.
Alonzo King’s work appears in the repertoire of many companies including Swedish Royal Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Joffrey Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Hong Kong Ballet, North, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. He has also worked in opera, television, and film. He has been honored with honorary Doctorates from Dominican University of California and California Institute of the Arts, numerous Isadora Duncan awards, the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Corps de Ballet International Teacher Conference, the Jacob’s Pillow Creativity Award, the US Artists award, and New York’s Bessie Award for Choreographer/Creator, among others. He was called a “San Francisco treasure” by both the San Francisco Museum & Historical Society and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom when he presented King with the Mayor’s Art Award. His company has appeared at the Venice Biennale, Monaco Dance Forum, Maison de la Dance, the Edinburgh International Festival, Montpellier Danse, the Wolfsburg Festival, the Holland Dance Festival, and Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris. King furthers the exploration of dance as an art form by engaging in numerous teaching endeavors including the Line Ballet Training Program, the Lines Ballet Summer Program, master teaching engagements, and the Alonzo King Lines Ballet BFA program at Dominican University of California. Through these, he and his faculty share his vision of an expressive, inclusive, 21st-century ballet with the next generation of dancers and dancemakers.
“About.” Alonzo King Lines Ballet. 2015. Web. 20 September 2015. <https://www.linesballet.org/company/>
“Alonzo King.” Alonzo King Lines Ballet. 2015. Web. 20 September 2015. <https://www.linesballet.org/company/>
“Artistic Vision.” Alonzo King Lines Ballet. 2015. Web. 20 September 2015. <https://www.linesballet.org/company/>
BlackPast.org. “King, Alonzo (c.1952- ).” BlackPast.org. 2015. Web. 20 September 2015. <http://www.blackpast.org/aah/ king-alonzo-c-1952>
“Family History.” Alonzo King Lines Ballet. 2015. Web. 20 September 2015. <https://www.linesballet.org/company/>
Molzahn, Laura. ”Job No. 1, you must be fearless: Alonzo King LINES Ballet.” Chicago Tribune. 18 March 2015. Linesballet.org. 20 September 2015. <https://www.linesballet.org/ media-ssl/uploads/news/Chicago_Tribune_3.2015_1.pdf>