The Paris Opera Ballet & Alonso King Lines BalletSaturday, March 04, 2017
Being human for me is all about our ability to associate disparate stuff together. I believe this may be what differentiates my cat Casi-Casi from me even though when I hit a tin of cat food with a spoon he knows that the one and the other mean dinner is served.
Good dance can do the same. It can transport me elsewhere by what some might think are tenuous connections.
Consider that in last night’s performance of the Alonso King Lines Ballet at the Vancouver Playhouse (and tonight Saturday March 4 at 8pm) the first work Shostakovich (featuring five of his string quartets) had me thinking of a great tank battle between the Germans and the Russians in World War II at Kursk. And that was not all I was also humming in my head Shostakovich’s orchestration of Tea for Two (with a further digression to the Thelonious Monk version).
In the second part of the program, Alonso King’s Sand instantly took me to Jorge Luís Borges’ wonderful poem El Reloj de Arena (The Hour Glass).
Christopher Hass’s spare set design featured a curtain of shimmering golden strings that when ocassionally rippled by a dancer (from the back) suggested sand falling in an hourglass or sand dunes being buffeted by wind. Axel Morgenthaler’s lighting design was also spare and not intrusive. With Robert Rosenwasser’s costumes and that gold lighting sand was in my head. At one point all ten dancers face a very strong light from one quarter and you could see how sun and desert almost did them in as they faltered.
The company itself (from the point of view of this rank amateur) is a company that is highly skilled and I would almost call it a modern ballet company in prestissimo. They are spectacular to watch. The five men and five women are all uncommonly tall. But with all their technique and virtuosity there was still room for passion, gentleness. In the striking ending of Sand's VIII We Hum, Outro where Robb Beresford placed his head on Madeline DeVries's lap.
While our city has a fairly healthy dance scene, it is most important to see how others in other cities (in this case San Francisco) do it. I was chatting with an Arts Umbrella dance student who was there “to see how”. Her favourite dancer of the evening was the male Babatunji. I particularly liked him because of his effusive smile. He was having fun.
Before the performance began I spotted a man sitting by the center wall in back of the theatre. He had a red cap on his head. I went up to him and asked him why his Spanish was so good even though he had been born in Georgia. With a smile of his face Alonso Lines replied, “I learned it in New York.”
I cannot end this sparse review (but of a performance that left me pleased if not exhausted by all the heavy duty movement) without mentioning that I have a personal connection with the Alonso King Lines Ballet. Before I go into that detail I must explain something that might not be generally known about dancers and dance companies. We all know that seasoned musicians must always practice before a performance. How about dancers? The fact is that even on tour in mornings before their performances they are given refresher classes on ballet and modern dance. Dance companies hire “mercenaries” (in a good sense) who are skilled in spades to bring them up to speed. One such person is my friend Sandrine Cassini.
Today as I write this she is giving those ten dancers a ballet class. I like to think that since Cassini started as a 14-year-old-dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet (!!Degas!!), somehow some of her technique, a most French technique is being transferred to those dancers. It was at one section of Shostakovich that extremely tall Courtney Henry did some slow movements en pointe. With her long arms and longer legs I was transfixed watching her. And yes there was something of Cassini in those moves.
To someone who grew up in Mexico city in the 50s where I was exposed to American jazz (records and Voice of America) listening to the music of Sand composed by saxophonist Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran was a final icing on my dance night cake.