Personally, I find Alonzo King’s work incredibly inspiring. Not only that, but I find many of his philosophies on dance, art, and life in general ring true for me. His choreography demonstrates his deep understanding of the systems of classical forms while simultaneously exploring a complex, contemporary philosophy on life and his art.
As someone whose background lies predominantly in classical ballet, I can appreciate the way King sees ballet as a system based on geometry and the functions of the body. Of course, it did not start that way while in the courts, but, over time, dancers and instructors refined it into an advanced and fairly comprehensive system. King does not ascribe to the idea of retaining balletic concepts out of tradition. Instead, he mines them for what is successful and useful. He finds the lines, the proportions, the balance, and the other concepts that have fascinated the artists of ancient Greece, of the Renaissance, and Petipa, Taglioni, and Balanchine. He then blends these with his training in Modern dance forms, improvisation, his study of Yoga, and interactions with artists from different backgrounds and traditions. This pluralistic approach to creating art seems infinitely honest to me, in that King is embracing the complexity of his own background and existence, and the nature of his artform. He does not reject the past out of a simplistic and reactionary notion of being contemporary. Rather, he looks at the things from both the past and the present that seem valuable to him. Even though King does a great deal of thinking about his artform and his approach to life (as becomes clear in any interview with him) he does not let his dancers merely rely on his brainpower. He talks about how he asks his dancers to reach beyond their comfort zones and to surrender themselves fully to their art. He wants dancers who are intelligent and think for themselves but who are also willing to let go of their ego in an almost sacrificial, devotional service to their art. They must be consumed by the dancing and by what they are saying in order to meet his standards. To me this is the essential part of Alonzo King’s work that takes it from an astounding technical display to a work of art. His choreography demands incredible precision, athleticism, flexibility, and command of the body; his dancers beautifully represent the epitome of the human body. Watching the LINES dancers perform his choreography live rejuvenated my appreciation and love of the capabilities of the body. That physicality, however, is only the foundation of his work. His dancers are not just there to do flashy moves and farm the audience for applause. Instead they give the same intense, concentrated attention to even the seemingly insignificant movements and moments. To me, this is where the profundity of the art lies. It is the dedication of every part of their highly trained bodies to what has been put before them. It requires mental and emotional conviction and discipline as much as it does the physical.
If I could invite Alonzo King to a rehearsal, I would have endless questions for him. I think my first would be about how he inspires these things in his dancers. How do you choreograph the human being as well as the steps? I would love to know just how much of the personalities of his dancers shines through. When seeing his work in performance and hearing a talk-back with his ballet mistress, I could see that some of the performers were a little sassier or a little more direct, or more playful. That did come across to me, and I loved seeing it because it balanced the dedication to the choreography, the idea, and the artform with an acknowledgement of the individuality of each performer. The talk-back also addressed the change in that quality that occurs when the piece is restaged on different performers. I would want to ask about how Mr. King navigates those shifts. I would also love to know his process for generating and structuring a piece. The classical components usually blend so seamlessly with the unexpected and contemporary components, and I would love to know whether that is intuitive, or whether he works on a case-by-case basis, or whether he has a system.