Friday, June 14, 2013

Alonzo King: Dancing Between The LINES


By Darlene Donloe

When you talk to Alonzo King you get the feeling he actually knows the meaning of life. His take on life, love and happiness is like a cool breeze on a hot summer day. When you talk to King, no matter how the conversation begins, it ends with his declaration that life is good.

Although he won’t reveal his age, “No never. I think age is another one of those monikers that doesn’t give you any real information on people,” it’s more than obvious that King has lived long enough to gain and share great insight and wisdom.

Over the years he has put what he’s learned into the form of dance. The results have been nothing less than awe-inspiring. Thirty years ago he founded LINES Ballet, a stellar dance company based in San Francisco, but lauded worldwide.

King, the company’s artistic director, has created works for companies throughout the world including the Royal Swedish Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Hong Kong Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, and the Washington Ballet.

On June 21-23, the company brings its magic and movement to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as part of the 10th anniversary season of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center.  Hubbard Street Dance Chicago + Alonzo King LINES Ballet features two of the most renowned dance companies in America who will join together in an unprecedented collaboration that combines classical ballet with contemporary styles, highlighting the emotional nuances of movement. Hubbard is currently celebrating its 35th season in 2012 and 2013. ( and

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alonzo King LINES Ballet will share the stage to present the Southern California premiere of “AZIMUTH”, a new work by King.

Structured in nine sections, “AZIMUTH” is defined by King as “the distance between where you are and where you are headed, erased by absorption.”

“AZIMUTH” features 28 world-renowned dancers: all 12 members of LINES Ballet and 16 from Hubbard Street’s ensemble of 18.

King also choreographed “Scheherazade.”

I recently spoke to King about his career and the upcoming show at the Dorothy Chandler Pavil

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alonzo King LINES Ballet in  
AZIMUTH by Alonzo King.  
Photo by Margo Moritz.  

DD: What is the benefit of a shared program with Hubbard Street?

AK: Glenn Edgerton, the head of Hubbard Street, said he wanted his company to experience what my company experiences. He was interested in our ideology. My company is unique in how we approach dance. You want this to be a living thesis. They are looking at you as a communicative tool. It’s about communication skills. With that emphasis, as odd as it seems, you’re trying to get what’s behind the body. That’s a lot of work. It goes against the grain about how most people are educating. The way we work, I’m a thesis of this idea. You have to contemplate whether you see it and understand it. He wanted to get together and create something unique. Managing the crazy schedule and the ideology of both companies, is what the world can do, in terms of pulling resources and coming together to mix chemistry, more than we’d be as separate individuals. Getting together presented some problems, but it was about risk-taking. Glenn Edgerton is one of the kindest and amiable people you can work with.

DD: How did this collaboration begin?

AK: Glenn brought it up. He flew out with his manager and we had a talk with my manager. He and I are idea-oriented. We talked about the cost and the plan. It took three years. We convened in Irvine at the UC Irvine campus to create the work. We worked with students from both of our schools and worked with dance students there.  It took three rushed, bloody weeks to complete.  Glenn wanted me to work with the company. I worked on materials for his and my company.

DD: So, you’ve explained why Edgerton wanted the collaboration. What about you? What does it do for you?

AK: I love to work. I want to be frank with you. Work in terms of quid pro quo, work is cleansing. Artists want to keep doing what they do. If I’m a cook I want to cook all the time. I always want to work. LINES is booked all the time. When we’re not, I’m creating a work or choreographing another company. Before I close my eyes to this planet, I want to produce as much as I can. I can build my character and continue to learn and also to get away from the prison of self-thought. It’s liberating to live in a realm of ideas. It’s liberating to have challenges.

Learning is about expansion. It’s part of our mission to increase our talents. Everyone feels there is something great inside of them. It has nothing to do with fame. It has to be realized. That’s part of working with the dancers, it’s about the work and the people who execute. Awaking what’s within is something unimaginably wonderful.

DD: The definition of an Azimuth is “The direction of a celestial object from the observer, expressed as the angular distance from the north or south point of the horizon to...
The horizontal angle or direction of a compass bearing.”
Tell me about your Azimuth.

AK:  You will see a lot of what we call geometrical design. You will see a figure of a compass and its symbology. The point is – everyone has a desire, whether it’s an object or a state of consciousness.  The subject is looking at an object and wanting it. What you seek to be or have. How can you diminish the distance between that thing and you? It’s by obsession accelerated evolution, by becoming that thing.
It’s a devotion or obsession that brings that thing to you. It’s about a heat of concentration to arrive at the location. It means every human being on the planet wants to avoid pain and suffering and joy that doesn’t go stale. Some think it’s gold, fame, sex, career, boyfriend, girlfriend.  In your chase there is a sense of pride and accomplishment and then after that there is a bit of disappointment because you realized this ain’t it either. Every desire that you’re really seeking is ultimate fulfillment, and that can only be found in spirit. In that quest we build muscles.

DD: You also choreographed “Scheherazade”. Tell me about it.

AK: That was a commission by the Monaco Dance Forum to inaugurate the Centenary of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo.  The director asked me if I would create something. I chose ‘Scheherazade’, which is a re-envisioning of the ancient collection of Persian, Sanskrit, and Arabic stories of 1,001 Nights.  Scheherazade, you never hear about who she is.  Is she just a set up for telling these stories. That became the hook for me trying to figure out who she was. 

King previously described his work on Scheherazade: “My intention was to grapple with the metaphysical meaning behind Scheherazade and present that meaning in its essence. Scheherazade is the symbol of the savior. She weaves tales not to save her own life, but to save humanity from its unending retributive response to injury.”

DD: For someone who has never seen Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, describe what they will see.

AK: You’re asking me something difficult. If you and I were together in a room and you had never eaten an orange and you asked me to describe the orange, I could talk about how it taste and how it peels. It means absolutely nothing. It has to be from absolute experience. Describing you I could talk about your hair. It means nothing until someone meets you. They will see brilliant dancers at the top of their game. It’s many races. They will find people who are experts at what they do. They will see costuming and music from some of the best at the Music Center. They will see the uniqueness of LINES. I am interested in originals, not carbon copies or knockoffs.  It’s about going against the grain and having a strong point of view.

DD: Your dance company is celebrating 30 years (founded 1982).  To what do you attribute your success?

AK: I think I have an incredible team of supporters and production staff. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have people who are steadfast at persevering. When my knees wobble, they step right in.

(l-r)  LINES Ballet Dancers Ricardo Zayas, Michael Montgomery and Keelan Whitmore in AZIMUTH By Alonzo King. Photo by Margo Moritz.

DD: There is any number of dance companies, what sets yours apart?

AK: We’re ourselves. There are so many knockoffs everywhere. So many are variations of a model. There’s a uniqueness about us. What’s interesting about you is you. . When you have 14 originals, not copying people, they are unique. People are cloning today.

DD: When you look back on your 30 years, what has been the most memorable?

AK: The continuum of love. That’s how it began. That was its purpose and goal. Remove petty irritations of life’s struggle, that’s what keeps it alive.

DD: Describe what dance does for you?

AK: It goes through stages. It gets better. Lets say you’re in a long-term relationship. How do you keep it alive? The one key is gratitude. I’ve got my legs. I’m breathing. I made a choice of marrying and never to cheat. To serve the world. To make works that move people and make them in awe. I’m in this relationship with dance. There are times when it’s not sweet, it’s demanding and relentless. What is that? It’s teaching me unconditional love. What if this isn’t happening for you, Alonzo. Did you marry me only to get sweets? You can’t grow. You can’t build muscles and acquire perseverance. Looking for the perpetual honeymoon is a lie. When it’s hard – learn. It’s a relationship that is going to train you.

DD: What’s next for the company?

AK: The tour is going to Israel and begins in December.  We’ll also do six shows in France.  

DD: What are you most proud of in your career?

AK: I’ve been surrounded by love and support. I want to do more and better. More and better - That’s our task until the end of our lives.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago + Alonzo King LINES Ballet, The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; 7:30 p.m., Fri., June 21 and Sat., June 22, 2 p.m. Sun., June 23; $28-$110;, (213) 972-8555 or email

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