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LINES Contemporary Ballet

Fall Repertory Preview

by Mary Ellen Hunt

October 6, 2002 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Alonzo King is exhausted. His company, LINES Contemporary Ballet, is amid a whirlwind of preparations for its upcoming 20th anniversary season at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, so perhaps that explains why he's a little stressed.

"Apologies, but we are under the gun," he says, having rushed from rehearsals to a meeting with a composer to an interview. Life as the artistic director of the internationally recognized chamber company is clearly taking its toll, but as a driving creative force, as well as an administrator, King views his directorship not as a job, but as a vocation.

"It's a continual balancing act. The bigger it gets, the more complicated it gets in terms of funding and not losing the artistic impetus and verve. It's showing me my limitations and telling me where I need to grow and what I need to do, but I think that's anything you commit your life to. Once you do that, you build a vocation, it becomes what you build yourself on. It becomes your teacher."

Founded in 1982 by King, Robert Rosenwasser and Pamela Hagen, the San Francisco-based company has always been a vehicle for King's introspective choreography. In the past, LINES has been known for featuring older dancers who brought, as King once said, "the value of experience along with musicianship, poetry and storytelling."

The newest dancers, however, are much younger, and for several of them, this is their first professional company. Some of them, including guest artist Rasta Thomas, who joins the company for the two-week run, are barely older than LINES itself.

"Age can trick you," King notes. "There are people who may be young chronologically and numerologically, but they're very mature. These dancers are very mature. I think of them as artists, I don't think of them as younger or older or this or that. I'm just thinking about making the work clear and seeing how they get it."

Still, there is a distinctiveness about the dancers that King chooses for his company. "I look for character," he says, "that they have a point of view, that they're fearless, that they love what they do, that they are incredible movers and that they're conscious and that they have creative minds. Who is bright? Who can go deep? Who is really involved in movement? That's what you're drawn to, not the exterior things."

Will the dancers manifest those qualities? Audiences will have the chance to answer that question as LINES presents a mixed bill celebrating its anniversary this coming week.

The 1994 "Ocean," which King produced in collaboration with jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, is on the program, although much of the choreography will be different in some sections.

"These are new dancers, different people. I have to choreograph to who they are. It has to fit them," King says during a recent rehearsal.

Even if the steps fit them, though, many of the dancers still look as if their heads are about to explode with all the information and bits of choreography strewn about that King eventually will have to knit together. It doesn't help that, with budget constraints being what they are, the dancers are unable to rehearse with the musicians until days before the show, part of a financial reality for small dance companies. This obviously frustrates King.

"It's not as it should be," he says, "but it's a hard time for dance."

Still, the 61-year-old Oakland-born Sanders, who also collaborated with LINES on the critically acclaimed "Three Stops on the Way Home" in 1997, will be on hand to perform his evocative original score for "Ocean" live, and that alone will be worth the price of admission.

There will be new works as well, with a premiere danced by Thomas, a San Francisco native who became the first American dancer to join the Kirov Ballet, as well as a new piece featuring the renowned local Spanish flamenco dancer La Tania. But although the Yerba Buena Center program features both new and old ballet, King proposes to meld them into a more continuous evening of dance and music. He is cagey, nevertheless, when pressed for any more specifics about the show.

"I don't know. I really don't know," he says testily. "I am in the middle of boiling and frying and cooking and cutting and dicing and you want to know what's it going to be? All I can say is I am in the kitchen, and I am boiling and frying and cooking and stirring and it's going to be beautiful and it's going to be great. That's all I can say."

This article was first published on October 6, 2002 in the Contra Costa Times.

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