Saturday, March 4, 2017

Alonzo King LINES Ballet at The Playhouse

Vancouver International Dance Festival favourites Alonzo King LINES Ballet are back in town, in residence at the Vancouver Playhouse yesterday evening and tonight following their last visit to the city in 2012. As was the case then, King has brought his trademark melding of classical technique and contemporary expression to a program of two ensemble works that also showcases his and his company members' innate musicality.

The first piece on the program, Shostakovich, is set to four string quartets by the Russian composer, with the dissonant tonality and sharp contrasts between the notes finding kinetic form through the repetition of different patterns of suspension and release. Indeed, the simple act of relevé--further heightened here by the fact that the women are in point shoes--turns into a dramatic precipice from which the dancers, sometimes following and sometimes anticipating the music, alternately launch themselves into space, catching still more air, or else fall back to the ground.

Sand features a contemporary jazz score by Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran and a simple yet wonderfully effective set design by Christopher Haas that is made up of a backdrop of oscillating ropes (and behind which some of the dancers occasionally appear). Across the piece's eight sections the dancers move as individual grains, as composite forms, and as a single mineral mass. The final section, in which company members arrange themselves in different poses of stillness about the stage while watching, along with us, a gorgeous pas de deux performed by Madeline DeVries and Robb Beresford, perfectly captures this idea of granularity, simultaneously embodying proximity and distance.

Of sand it is often said that no two grains are alike, but that when aggregated in a sandbox or on a beach they are indistinguishable. I can think of no better metaphor for the way this company works. Looking at the dancers on stage, for example, one can't help noticing their refreshing racial diversity. But, at the same time, when they move together they become a single--and incredibly fine-tuned--instrument.


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