King, Alonzo 19(?)(?)–
Alonzo King 19(?)(?)–
American choreographer Alonzo King has created more than 165 ballets for LINES, the ballet company he founded. With his pieces also in the repertories of more than 50 companies around the world, King is “one of the more successful contemporary ballet choreographers working today,” according to Karen Campbell in a 2002 Boston Globe article. His contemporary and liberated choreography is clearly derived from his classical ballet background. But his style is groundbreaking and inventive, without becoming obscure or out-of-touch. “King has been trying to bring a fresh look to contemporary ballet … with a stylistic aesthetic that takes ballet into the realm of hard and fast with nary a trace of French court dance,” Campbell wrote in a 2000 Globe article. His choreography possesses a “distinctively muscular, angular, and excitingly propulsive style,” she wrote. King’s success may lie in the fact that his goals for his work transcend the dance world. “What I’m really interested in is getting closer to the truth,” he said in an interview with the Orange County Register. “I’m trying to reveal what’s hidden behind all of us. I’m interested in what is common to all of us. When people talk about the classical ideal of nobility, that’s the nobility of the soul.”
King was born to Valencia and Slater King and grew up mostly in Santa Barbara, California, where his parents brought politics and world cultures into their home. King’s father was a noted civil rights activist and businessman. His mother was very supportive of her youngest son’s creative tendencies, encouraging him to draw and express himself. Despite his parents’ divorce, King remained close to his father, who often brought his son with him to civil rights demonstrations. After high school, King turned down several scholarships to attend Fisk University, a black institution in Tennessee. He was tired of being the only black in all-white schools, he said.
King’s time in college was short lived. After just one semester, he left to pursue his passion for dance. He earned scholarships to study in New York City at the Harkness School of Ballet, Alvin Ailey’s Dance School, and the American Ballet Theater, where he studied under the renowned ballet teacher Stanley Williams. After a few years in New York, King spent a year abroad, dancing with several European companies. Upon his return to New York, he accepted an apprenticeship with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, but later left to study at the California Institute of Arts with Bella Lewitzky, one of his mentors. He spent the next few years dancing for professional companies, including those of Donald McKayle, Lucas Hoving, and the Harkness Youth Company, until deciding that his heart was in teaching and choreography.
King founded LINES Contemporary Ballet (later renamed Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet) in San Francisco in 1982. He based his approach to dance training on what his own dance education had been lacking. When he looked back on his training, he told Janet Lynn Roseman in Dance Masters: Interviews with Legends of Dance, he found two elements missing. “One was the spiritual force and the other was the concept that ‘it
At a Glance…
Born to Valencia and Slater King. Education: School of American Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Harkness House of Ballet Arts, all New York City; studied choreography at California Institute of Art in Los Angeles.
Career: Worked as a dancer for Honolulu City Ballet, Santa Barbara Ballet, and Dance Theater of Harlem until 1980; taught master classes at London’s Ballet Rambert, National Ballet of Canada, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, Ballet West, and San Francisco Ballet, among others; choreographed works for Frankfurt Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem, Alvin Ailey, Hong Kong Ballet, Washington Ballet, Dresden Ballet, among others, and for solo performances by prima ballerina Natalia Makarova and Joffrey Ballet principal Valerie Madonia; founded Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, 1982–; founded San Francisco Dance Center, 1989– has served on panels for the National Endowment of the Arts, California Arts Council, City of Columbus Arts Council, and Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Arts Partners Program; also served as a commissioner for the city and county of San Francisco, and as a writer and lecturer on the art of dance.
Memberships: National Endowment for Arts; California Arts Council; City of Columbus Arts Council; Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Arts Partners.
Awards: Recipient of the NEA Choreographer’s Fellowship and the National Dance Residency Program; has also received four Isadora Duncan Awards, the Hero Award from Union Bank, and the Excellence Award from KGO in San Francisco.
Addresses: Office —Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, 26 Seventh St., San Francisco, CA 94103. Official website —http://www.linesbaltet.org.
is within you,’” he said. “Most training is built on the assumption that… we have ‘to do’ instead of ‘be.’” He elaborated in a June 1995 interview with Valerie Gladstone for Dance: “I wanted dancers to reexamine their existing definition of themselves and their art.” While his dancers do not improvise, neither are they forced to perform the dance as choreographed. King encourages the dancers to find his or her own way through the dance in rehearsal, feeling that moves that are natural to the dancers, that come from inside them, will be more powerful, and produce a stronger final piece.
While King’s choreography is clearly grounded in his classical background, it is by no means limited by it. King’s choice of themes and music are as diverse and challenging as the dancers can stand, and they thrive on it. In addition to dances set to classical music by Shostakovich, Barber, Gorecki, and Handel, among others, King also has used many styles of music from around the globe. “Tango” (2000) is set to the music of Astor Piazzolla and is a sultry foray into the Latin style, while “Tarab” (1998) is set to the Nubian music of Hamza al Din, who accompanied the dancers on an oud, a guitar-like instrument. “Koto” (2002) is set to an original score played live on an electric koto by Japanese composer Miya Masaoka. For “People of the Forest” King paired his dancers with 16 dancers and musicians of Nzamba Lela, a group of Pygmy artists from the Aka clan of the Mbuti tribe that reside in the Central African Republic. King also has enjoyed collaborations with many musical talents, including jazz legend Pharaoh Sanders and India’s Zakir Hussein, who composed and performed live the six-part, largely abstract “Who Dressed You Like a Foreigner,” which was the strongest work in a 2000 program, according to Karen Campbell of the Boston Globe.
In addition to a lifetime spent studying dance, King also has dedicated himself to becoming a student of Eastern and Western mystical thought, Jungian psychology, and the teachings of ancient saints and sages. These metaphysical and spiritual elements are as evident in his choreography as the physical elements, Roseman wrote. King firmly believes that the desire for knowledge and dance come from the same beginnings, as he told her in Dance Masters. “Classical ballet is not a style, but a science that is rooted in universal principles,” he said. “They are the same principles that have informed science and folklore since time. Neither is an invention. It is a discovery like in all truth.” Dance critic Valerie Gladstone agreed. “All of Alonzo King’s beliefs, taught and learned over the years, resonate in his choreography,” she wrote in a 1995 Dance magazine article.
King is renowned for his effective and unique skills as a dance teacher. As a result, he has been invited to teach master classes at London’s Ballet Rambert, National Ballet of Canada, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, Ballet West, and the San Francisco Ballet, among others. “I look in a ballet class—so many people aren’t dancing because they’re cut off [from] the living link that‘s inside of them,” he explained in an interview with Dance Teacher. “These people feel that their voice isn’t valid. And so you have a room full of ghost bodies looking like they’re afraid to step on a crack, instead of singing their song.” Such is not the case with King’s dancers: “They know how to work and keep expanding,” he continued. “Their theme is ‘more and better’ all the time.”
King’s work is part of the repertories of more than 50 ballet companies worldwide, including Dance Theater of Harlem, for which King’s “Signs and Wonders” has become a program staple. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater regularly performs King’s “Following the Subtle Current Upstream.” “In his choreography, one always sees his passion for classical movement for its own sake,” New York Times dance critic Valerie Gladstone wrote in 1998. “For contrast, he will juxtapose formal phrases with modern-dance elements like torso contractions and angular and stilted movements. Balanchine’s influence shows up in the formalistic way he moves groups and in the deeply romantic nature of his pas de deux.” “For me,” King told Gladstone, “choreography is a language that communicates more clearly than the language of words. My ballets—all a continuation of one another—are my song.”
“Crossing,” Santa Barbara High School Of The Performing Arts, 1970.
“Journey Into Satchitananda,” Terpsichore Dance Company, 1971.
“Sumum Bukum Umum,” Terpsichore Dance Company, 1971.
“Elysium,” California Institute Of The Arts, Italian Television Special, 1972.
“Interior Castle,” California Institute Of The Arts, Spring Concert, 1972.
“Back Home,” Kylo Kylo Ensemble, 1972.
“Maya,” South Coast Contemporary Dance Theater Premiere, 1974.
“Zulu,” Moya Ballet Premiere, 1975.
“Mysterious Mountain,” Moya Ballet, 1975.
“Icarus,” Moya Ballet, 1975.
“Five Dances For Piano,” Santa Barbara Ballet Theater, 1979.
“Christine,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1982.
“Ictus,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1983.
“Songs,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1984.
“Just A Minute,” Joan Lazarus Company, 1985.
“Jeux Des Enfants,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1986.
“Quand ma mène m’apprenait,” solo for Natalia Makarova, LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1986.
“Prayer,” solo for Chrisher Boatwright, LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1986.
“Stealing Light,” pas de deux for Chrisher Boatwright and Tracy-Kai Maier, LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1986.
“Solo,” June Watanabe Dance Company, 1986.
“Rapture,” Zaccho/SF Dance Theater, 1987.
“Apparitions,” Marin Civic Ballet, 1987.
“Allegro Barbaro,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1987.
“Awake in the Dream,” Sacramento Ballet, 1988.
“Ligeti Variations,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1988.
“Reoccurrence,” Asian American Dance Collective, 1988.
“Alkan,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1989.
“Solo,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1989.
“Salome,” pas de deux for Chiharu Shibata and Antonio Lopez, 1989.
“Study,” solo for Lourdes Unanua, 1989.
“Toccata in D Minor,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1990.
“Without Wax,” Balletmet Of Ohio, 1990.
“Make Me the Sea,” Zaccho/SF, 1990.
“Songs of the Aka,” Silvia Martins Solo Dances, 1991.
“Grain,” Augustino Dance Company, 1991.
“Canté,” The Washington Ballet, 1991.
“Four Traditional Spirituals,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1992.
“Pavane,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1993.
“Poulenc pas de deux,” for Muriel Maffre and Richard Redlefsen, LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1994.
“Ocean,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1994.
“Along the Path,” North Carolina School Of The Arts, 1994.
“Signs and Wonders,” Dance Theater Of Harlem, 1995.
“String Quartet,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1995.
“Klang,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1996.
“Handel pas de deux,” for Muriel Maffre and Benjamin Pierce, LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1996.
“Ground,” Dance Theater Of Harlem, 1996.
“Suite Etta,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1997.
“Handel Trio,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1997.
“Hovering Slightly Above Ground,” Oakland Ballet, 1998.
“Who Dressed Like a Foreigner?,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1998.
“Tarab,” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1998.
“Map,” North Carolina Dance Theater, 1998.
“Land Forms,” Dallas Black Dance Theatre, 1998.
“Shostokovich String Quartet” LINES Contemporary Ballet, 1999.
“Following the Subtle Current Upstream,” Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, 2000.
“Soothing the Enemy,” Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, 2000.
“Tango,” Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, 2000.
“The Heart’s Natural Inclination,” Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, 2001.
“Koto,” Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, 2002.
Boston Globe, August 25, 2000, p. Cll; August 16, 2002, p. E18.
Christian Science Monitor, April 3, 1995, p. 12. Dance, June 1995, p. 43; July 1999, p. 29; July 2000, p. 60; April 2001, p. 76; October 2001, p. 64.
Dance Teacher, October 2001, p. 56.
Orange County Register, March 18, 1994, p. 11.
Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, http://www.linesballet.org/alonzo.main.html (December 28, 2002).
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