Review: ALONZO KING LINES BALLET: DEEP RIVER at Kennedy Center

Alonzo King and his LINES Ballet are altering the way we view movement.

By: May. 19, 2024
Review: ALONZO KING LINES BALLET: DEEP RIVER at Kennedy Center
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The visionary eye of Choreographer Alonzo King creates such complex choreographic movement from his gifted ensemble of twelve contemporary ballet dancers, that you will miss a tantalizing moment if you avert your eyes for even a nano-second. Billed as the Alonzo King LINES Ballet: Deep River ---the audience at the Kennedy Center was treated not only to the choreographic ebb and flow of the Deep River contemporary ballet work but was also treated to no less than twelve other contemporary ballet dance works that preceded this primary work (except for one achingly languorous, reflective, and sensual work entitled Epilogue Pas which was a stunning pas de deux that was the final work of the evening –danced beautifully by Adji Cissoko and Shuaib (Elhassan). 

Though Deep River may be highlighted in the title of the program, the entire collection of shorter ballet pieces truly seems as if it were an organic whole at times for, indeed, it is ruins the ruminative, “stream -of -consciousness” feel of the choreographed movement to declaim too much about demarcations between each piece.  Clusters, groups, and solo dancers come on and off the stage space in a fleeting style that engages the eye with the rapid succession of movements set to the music of the various composers.

There seemed to be a thematic thread throughout much of the ballet pieces which portrayed the separation of groups that would tentatively separate from one another and/or to dance in isolation (via a solo) ---only to eventually engage in choregraphed Pas de deux or choreographed movement showing bonding, embracing, reconciliation and coming together.

The miracle of Mr. King’s work and of his ensemble is that –as befits contemporary ballet –the rigorous training of classical ballet showed itself in the taught delineation and sheer strength of the body contours and agile extensions of the lower body and, concurrently, there was an almost continual hyperactivity connected with the upper body above the waist; movements of the arms were expressively extended vertically, horizontally, diagonally and even pulled up towards the body to show the fluidity and flexibility of modern dance elements. (The continual non-stop movement of the upper body at almost all times seemed to be a hallmark of Mr. King’s choreographic style)

Grammy-Award winning vocalist Lisa Fischer sang with a sonorous, mesmerizing, and spiritually transcendent quality to enrich many of the brilliantly conceived dance pieces. (Ms. Fischer also composed and wrote lyrics). Her physical presence was dignified yet natural to match the mood of the pieces. Jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran played with innovation and jazzy verve. (Composers Pharoah Sanders, James Weldon Johnson, J. Rosamond Johnson, Jim McKee, Wieslaw Pogorzelski, and Kamalakanta Bhattacharya also composed several excellent compositions).

I was especially intrigued by the full company’s choreographic movement in the elegiac and heartbreaking ballet work entitled Kaddisch by composer Maurice Ravel.

Auditory sounds of mourning, clapping, and shouting off stage during certain numbers added to the rich experience that this marvelous contemporary ballet company delivers.

As alluded to earlier, the primary work entitled Deep River, came into its own as the earlier works evaporated and shifted into this major work. Variegated patterns of choreographic groupings and movements of visceral physical endurance against trauma, difficulties and suffering were conveyed by the entire ballet company with choreographic empathy. (Spiritual music from the Black and Jewish traditions was selected to accompany this work).

Gender fluidity was highlighted throughout with interesting male to male and female to female combinations. Costume Construction by Shannon Maxham, Jamielyn Duggan and Joan Raymond emphasized this with form-fitting skirts for the men at times. It was also a pleasure to have the company change apparel at intervals as the choreography and movement dictated.

The full company of sublime contemporary ballet dancers must be cited:  Maël Amatoul, Babatunji, Adji Cissoko, Madeline DeVries, Theo Duff-Grant, Lorris Eichinger, Shuaib Elhassan, Joshus Francique, Ilaria Guerra, Maya Harr, Marusya Madubuko, and Tatum Quiñόnez.

Alonzo King and his LINES Ballet are altering the way we view movement.

Running Time: 65 minutes without an intermission.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet: Deep River was presented on May 16, 17, and 18, 2024 at 8pm at the Kennedy Center located at 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20566. 

Photo Credit: Alonzo King LINES Ballet : Deep River. Photo by: Jamie Lyons.




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