*It’s cold in New York, but Alonzo King doesn’t mind. He’s there heating things up by doing what he loves, choreographing ‘something’ for the American Ballet Theater (ABT). On March 16, he will bring his talent to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa where he will present a new, untitled World Premiere, featuring music by jazz artist Jason Moran, scenery, and costumes by Robert Rosenwasser, and lighting by Jim French. This is King’s first for the ABT.
The American Ballet Theatre, the official dance company of Segerstrom Center for the Arts, presents ABT Forward, a mixed repertory program performed March 16–19, 2022, with three impressive works highlighting the company’s incredible artistry and athleticism, and the inspiring visions of King, Ratmansky and Lang.
The King piece joins two other offerings from the company in a full evening of mixed works, including ZigZag by Jessica Lang, featuring the music of Tony Bennett (and one of his duets with Lady Gaga), and an Alexei Ratmansky work to Bernstein music – played by the Pacific Symphony.
A visionary choreographer who is said to be altering the way the world looks at dance, King calls his works “thought structures” created by the manipulation of energies that exist in matter through laws, which govern the shapes and movement directions of everything that exists.
Talking to King, it’s obvious his zest for his artistry hasn’t waned. In fact, in some ways, even after decades of sharpening and perfecting his craft, he’s just beginning.
An affable sort, King is known for creating an unforgettable dialogue between movement and music. A world-renowned trailblazer who was born in Georgia to civil rights activist parents, he’s never at a loss for words, has a quick wit, and has found his own form of expression through the language of movement.
He attended the School of American Ballet and the Harkness School of Ballet, and in 1982, founded Alonzo King LINES Ballet, a San Francisco-based contemporary ballet company that nurtures dynamic artistry and the development of authentic, creative expression through dance.
I recently caught up with King during a recent phone interview while he was in New York. He was in a great mood. We spoke about the Alonzo King/LINES Ballet currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, what audiences can expect from his upcoming show, and his career as one of the most talked-about and inspirational dancer/choreographers in the world.
DD: When you are choreographing, what do you see in your mind’s eye?
AK: I look for energies. Working with people new to you – you look at how they move. You don’t put them in a mold. You do a lot of intuitive tuning in. Sometimes you put something on someone and there’s no understanding. In any first meeting, there is this period of grace when you’re trying to smell each other – if you know what I mean. In my head, I go to the idea. Some dancers don’t go to the idea. I play in the realm of ideas. It’s a trust thing.
DD: What happens when you and the dancers don’t mesh?
AK: I think when you’re a tailor, you have to make a suit. You are either going to find stalwarts who are going to do the job, or you’ll find real resistance and no contributions. If you’re not jumping into the world of ideas – what are you here for? You can’t stand there like an empty cup.
DD: Talk about your collaboration with Jason Moran. How do you two make it work?
AK: I chose Jason Moran. He’s incredible. He’s so good at what he does. We’ve done a lot of collaborations together. We have a sense of what we both need and like. We are comfortable with each other. Adjustments are easy. We choose the dancers and begin to build the work. We come together. Like the Amish, we build a barn. We have the willingness, fearlessness, cooperation, – everything we want in humanity. It’s not always smooth, but we work it out.
DD: The Alonzo King LINES Ballet is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary season. Does it feel like 40 years?
AK: No, not at all. It feels like this is the work I do. I do it and I’m in the moment. When you’re involved in the work, you’re not looking up. You’re not looking at the clock. You’re just in it. Now, it does feel like it when it comes to fundraising. Then, it feels like 100 years. When I’m choreographing, it feels like 30 seconds because you are drunk in the world of discovery. You think, how can I go deeper? You are obsessed.
DD: You have been at this for a long time. How has your approach to dance changed over the years?
AK: I’ve become more succinct and human. The ideas behind the movement and what movement is – science tells us the body is an electromagnetic wave. The body is fireworks. That’s what life is. We don’t tell our heart to beat, our eyes to water or blink, it just works. When it doesn’t, it’s trauma. This machine is miraculous. We are a miniature of the macrocosm. The Bible says, ‘Know ye not that you are gods.’ DD: Tell me what audiences will see when they check out your new work.
AK: The most accomplished and beautiful dancers in the world, from the most accomplished dance theater in the world. They will see a work of love and logic.
DD: In Los Angeles, there are many entertainment options. Why should people spend their money and come see your new show?
AK: There is something about coming out of the commercial world and stepping into the world of personal views, views that aren’t concerned with pleasing, or concerned with box office. Views that speak to our commonality in humanness. A human commonality. The music, watching people who are supremely concentrated. People not looking at their phones. They are living in the moment.
DD: Is everything about movement?
AK: Yes, if you think of the Big Bang Theory. What happened first – movement or sound? They are inextricably linked. There is motion. The piano has to be struck with fingers. It’s movement that is making sounds. Yes, everything we do begins with thought. We behave because of what we have thought. Behavior is movement.
DD: What is the message of your new work or do you leave the interpretation to the audience to see whatever they see?
AK: It’s both. The Talmud (religious text) says – ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.’ For me, it’s back to the idea that we have within us unimaginable power, and if we can get a glimpse of that on stage to remind us – we can be fearless, generous, risk-taking. Those qualities are in the artist. This is what I see. You don’t’ have to go by what someone told you you should see.
DD: Tell me about the moment you knew you wanted to dance.
AK: I was always dancing. I couldn’t keep still. My mother was a dancer. She taught me some things. It blew my mind. Watching her move would burst my head open. She moved so differently from other people. She manipulates music. I never stopped. In high school, I had a lot of scholarships to big schools. My father said, ‘Do what you want.’ My mother said, ‘Go to one of these schools.’ I said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to.’ She said, ‘Please, for one semester.’ I didn’t go. I went to dance.
DD: How did your mom feel about that?
AK: She became very proud. DD: Why is dance important to you? What does it do for you? AK: It is an embodiment of the world that has no words. It’s a step beyond the five senses into an eternal world that is enormous. It’s where creativity emerges from. It’s personal. It’s the realm of spirit. The arts began with people going into meditative states to get bliss. Dancing was a form of prayer. We still have that today.
DD: Are great dancers/choreographers born or are they taught?
AK: If you have an obsession you can become anything. Talent is fire. You believe in yourself even when there is no external result. You have to have the, ‘I will die trying mentality,’– that’s real talent.
DD: Has your feeling about dance changed over the years?
AK: What I’ve learned over the years is that as much as I love movement, stillness is the place where profundity begins. Stillness is the doorway into spirit.
American Ballet Theatre, ABT Forward, March 16-19, World Premiere by Alonzo King – music by Jason Moran; Alexei Ratmansky’s Bernstein in a Bubble – Leonard Bernstein’s (Divertimento), performed live by Pacific Symphony; Jessica Lang’s ZigZag – songs are sung by Tony Bennett with a special duet with Lady Gaga; Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA; March 16-18, 7:30 p.m.; March 19, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; tickets start at $39; 714 556-2787.