The term feral is often taken to mean savage or predatory, but its first definition is wild – something, or someone, who has escaped domesticity and returned to a wilder, untamed state. In this sense, there is something feral about Alonzo King LINES Ballet.

Maya Harr, Babatunji and Madeline DeVries in <i>Pole Star</i> © Manny Crisostomo
Maya Harr, Babatunji and Madeline DeVries in Pole Star
© Manny Crisostomo

The dancers are highly trained practitioners, primarily in that most exacting of forms, ballet. And they are gifted in their complete linking of mind and body, with the result that they can demand extreme movements from those bodies with the immediacy and effortlessness of a sneeze. They have also escaped the art form's classical conventions. You won’t see the symmetrical restraints of Petipa, or even Balanchine. Although long-legged extensions, arched feet and flexible backs are all evident in the work of choreographer Alonzo King, bodies just as often hug the ground, and, in duets, curl into another like a fetus in a womb. Feral indeed.

LINES dancers’ perform restlessly, the kinetics quick and difficult to follow. In its speed, King’s choreography resembles that of other followers of the feral, Wayne McGregor and William Forsythe. Though each of these three choreographers follows his own idiosyncratic sense of movement, they share a similar intention – to delve into the mystic connection between the body and its surrounding physical space. What narrative there may be is subliminal.

LINES Ballet nourishes itself through collaboration, sometimes with other movement forms such as Shaolin martial arts, but more often with musicians, from the Kronos Quartet to vocalist Lisa Fischer, who sings everything from R&B to hip hop and jazz. The company’s current musical collaborator is Vân-Ánh (Vanessa) Võ, an award-winning Vietnamese musician currently resident in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pole Star, a 40-minute piece in nine sections, premiered this past weekend at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the company’s local venue.

Babatunji, Michael Montgomery, Shuaib Elhassan in <i>Pole Star</i> © Manny Crisostomo
Babatunji, Michael Montgomery, Shuaib Elhassan in Pole Star
© Manny Crisostomo

Võ performs her music on traditional Vietnamese instruments – zither, drums and bamboo xylophone, among others – and the music used in this collaboration has a contemporary, almost post-modern, sound. The opening piece is composed of single notes in a melodic string embellished with flurries of drumming or cascading strummed chords. Sounds like blown breath or whispered words rise and fall. On a darkened stage, projections of a misty green mountainous world create the “floating field” of the first two dances. The videos created by Jamie Lyons were filmed in the volcanic rainforest of the island of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean.

Floating Field begins with a solitary soloist, isolated but of a piece with the rainforest lushness. Other dancers enter and retreat, costumed in sheer skirts or shorts in shades of green, their skin glowing through the shimmery cloth (Robert Rosenwasser). Company member Babatunji careens through the space in a sheer yellow-gold pleated skirt, flaring like leaves in the wind. His powerful athleticism infuses each leap and turn. Later in the piece he balances on one arm, his body rolling over and inward like a strange sea creature turning small cartwheels to scurry into an imaginary crevice.

Madeline DeVries and Shuaib Elhassan in <i>Pole Star</i> © Manny Crisostomo
Madeline DeVries and Shuaib Elhassan in Pole Star
© Manny Crisostomo

Michael Montgomery, who always seems preternatural, his curly hair streaming out like Ariel stirring up a tempest, dances with four women, repeating phrases of movement. The women give way to men and rhythm takes over as Babatunji watches, seated cross-legged at an angle. Throughout the ballet, dancers at rest stand or sit in geometric configuration with a dancing soloist, as if witnessing were a crucial part of the dance. The motionless dancers, with the audience, form a bowl that surrounds the movement and the striving individual.

Adji Cissoko is splendid, as always. And the piece ends with a luscious duet between red-headed Madeline DeVries and Shuaib Elhassan. A projection of green sky above shadowy mountains hovers behind their duet, and the curved bodies of the other dancers, barely visible, move in the darkness of downstage.

The program began with Art Songs, a 2016 piece choreographed to a mélange of five songs ranging from Bach’s “Ebarme Dich” from the St Matthew Passion to Purcell's “Dido’s Lament”. Though the music was largely melancholic in tone, the dance remained virtuosic and dynamic.

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