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>