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Monday, May 20, 2024

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PerformanceStage ReviewSpring (and the future) is in the air in...

Spring (and the future) is in the air in Alonzo King’s latest show

The choreographer's two strong revivals and a new piece at YBCA spur the question, 'What comes next?'

There’s a sense of self-examination in Alonzo King’s latest triple-bill. The legendary hoofer-choreographer’s work is as strong as it’s ever been, but the three pieces of the LINES Ballet’s Spring 2024 show (through April 14 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF) give a faint sense of “What could be next?” Whether that’s a positive or negative depends on one’s own perception.

The three-parter begins with a revival of 2013’s Concerto for Two Violins, in which the titular Bach composition serves as the background score for a very “Spring Fever”-ish narrative. In Robert Rosenwasser-designed costumes that resemble swimsuits, the “Vivace” finds members of the troupe moving as if coming out of a winter hibernation.

We then move to the “Largo ma non tanto”, in which two couples who appear to intersect their relationship frustrations with their passions: they go through the motions with their regular partners; break apart with new partners; and may or may not form a full “quadrouple” by the movement’s end. (Truly, one of the most “San Francisco” things I’ve seen on stage lately.) The “Allegro” seems to take Rosenwasser’s clothing design literally, as the ensemble’s movements most resemble swimming. It conveys a relieving sense of season freedom that was only enhanced by the Bay Area sun from earlier in the day.

Shuaib Elhassan and Adji Cissoko of Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Photo by Chris Hardy

Incidentally, “Spring” is the title of the second piece and world premiere. It’s an American slave story. Once one gets over the jarring sight of so many non-Black dancers doing this particular story of Black slaves, the intentionally dour piece comes off more as a collection of ideas and movements rather than a solidified work. It’s always refreshing to see a Black artist give a new take on slave narratives, but the combination of clashing choreography and a lack of cohesion in the beats makes it feel more like a work-in-progress.

After the intermission, the show concludes with another King revival: 2018’s The Collective Agreement. As this piece debuted with the SF Ballet, it makes sense that the choreography is the most traditionally balletic, as opposed to the modern styles of the preceding pieces. The sci-fi-esque piece is highlighted (literally) by Jim Campbell’s grid lights, which appear to float mid-air above the dancers. The tone is very dystopian, suggesting an Orwellian society overseen by an incredibly militaristic superpower that controls the people. There’s a bit of the classic “learning to feel in an unfeeling society” trope at play with dancers seeming to find greater peace as they explore relationships away from the goose-stepping (not literally) whole.

Ilaria Guerra of Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Photo by RJ Muna

With two revivals and one premiere (the former being stronger than the rookie piece), one gets the impression of a “Where do we go from here?” sense unifying the entire evening. Be it the change of seasons, the darkest period of this country’s history, or the uncertain future for which we seem destined, one should look at every great change as an opportunity to ask “Have we really learned anything?” The world currently being what it is, it’s quite easy to say “No.” Then again, giving in to despair is akin to giving up a good fight. A recurring theme about the characters in all three pieces is that there are plenty of them willing to take risks, even when it seems to be a Sisyphean task in and of itself. That they all do it for relationships seems no coincidence. If there’s an overarching message to take from adding King’s world premiere with two revivals, it seems to be that falling into a routine doesn’t mean one’s life is over.

Having a gifted ensemble with which to make that point doesn’t hurt.

Maël Amatoul of Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Photo by Chris Hardy

It had been a while since I’d been inside the YBCA’s theatre. In fact, the last time was for a LINES Ballet production. I arrived to opening night of this show knowing that the strong mask mandates that made me feel safe at that earlier show were no longer in place, but I went in hoping that the newer SoMa architecture would likely have a stronger HVAC system than the traditional brick-and-mortar buildings surrounding it. Indeed, over the course of the two-hour show, the CO² readings on my Aranet4 never seemed to go above 686ppm. Mind you, the house wasn’t full, but it was occupied enough to be close to it.

Perhaps it’s because I currently face an uncertain future in my personal life that I found myself so sensitive that to the seasonal change theme that appears to emanate throughout King’s new show. Although the newest part of the show is the roughest, I latched onto the perceived sense of optimism that seems to conclude each part of the triple-bill. Even when the entire world seems against you, a little hope can take you surprising far.

That, and some stunning choreography.

ALONZO KING LINES BALLET’S SPRING 2024 showcase runs through April 14 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF. Tickets and further info here.

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Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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