When discussing visual arts, especially ballet, lines are frequently at the center of the conversation. Body lines, directional lines, a line of thinking, the possibilities are endless. Or, in Alonzo King’s poetic words, lines are “the visible organization of what we see.” This point of view permeates King’s choreography in a stellar performance by Alonzo King LINES Ballet company.

Ricardo Zayas in Scheherazade, © RJ Muna
Ricardo Zayas in Scheherazade,
© RJ Muna

The contemporary ballet company presented two distinct pieces at the Joyce Theater. First on the program, Resin is a beautiful abstract work set to music by Jordi Savall and various Sephardic field recordings. Each of the 15 sections connects the audience to a location from the Iberian Peninsula to the Middle East with different rhythms and instruments. Certain individual steps are repeated throughout Resin, allowing King to use different props and staging while keeping the piece cohesive.

The first dancer on stage emerges from a floor-to-ceiling column of fabric. Once free, he punctuates each musical phrase with a sharp change in direction. As more dancers enter they introduce new ideas: low lunges, catch steps, twisting hips and heels together so the whole body twists. These lines and shapes are expanded in partnering sections. Two men (Keelan Whitmore and David Harvey) share a duet that takes place mostly at the perimeter of the stage with one man following the other like an echo. In one lift Whitmore lies on his back, legs perpendicular to the ground, holding Harvey with his feet behind Harvey’s knees.

In the following duet (Courtney Henry and Zack Tang) the dancers spend more time physically connected but highlighting the negative space between them. Holding hands, Henry plants one foot on the ground and tilts away from Tang, her body like a pennant pulling away from him. In the next minute they switch so that her legs are pulling away, seeming to stretch on forever. Resin is packed with beautiful imagery and shapes that defy logic. The finale includes a duet under a stream of small (resin?) pellets that pours over the dancers like water.

Scheherazade, the second piece of the night, is King’s reimagining of the famous story and ballet. Although based on the original score by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Zakir Hussain uses traditional eastern instruments completely foreign to classical ballet. These instruments, including the tabla, a traditional Indian drum, duduk, an Armenian double reed wind instrument, and ney, an ancient end-blown flute, among others, produce sounds and rhythms thousands of years older than ballet itself.

King’s marriage of new and old, classic and contemporary, East and West, make Scheherazade unlike any other ballet. The women are on pointe the entire time drawing a clear line between the eastern music and western dance. Traditional dances across the world are performed barefoot and use a strong connection to the ground.

The pas de deux in King’s Scheherazade tests the limits of Scheherazade (Kara Wilkes) and Shahryar (David Harvey). Their entire relationship, 1,001 nights of Scheherazade trying to save her life while falling in love, is told through this duet. At first it is obvious that Shahryar holds all the power. Harvey partners Wilkes holding her hands behind her back as she développés one leg. He dips her forward, holding her shoulders, her nose almost touching the floor. Slowly the relationship changes and Wilkes gains control pushing Harvey to the ground. He supports her from the floor to create the illusion that she has become the stronger person. Though they display a range of emotions that would exhaust anyone, Wilkes and Harvey never falter during their long duet. Their energy fuels the connection between Scheherazade and Shahryar.

Scheherazade also benefits from a fantastic ensemble. Keelan Whitmore as the Vizier is a whirlwind on stage with spinning jumps that carry him across the space. In the last section the whole cast dances to a cyclical, tribal drumbeat. They skip with their knees high, beating their arms down in time. The program notes this driving rhythm dates back to 680 AD.

Alonzo Kings LINES Ballet presents a stunning program with Resin and Scheherazade. This company uses classic ballet technique to create exquisite images on stage unlike any other. You may never think of a line the same way again.

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