On the Road Again With Alonzo King LINES Ballet

March 8, 2022

One of the final steps of relaunching the dance world has been the return to touring, both domestically and internationally. Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancers Madeline DeVries and Shuaib Elhassan took Dance Magazine inside the company’s first overseas tour since the pandemic, sharing their photos and giving us firsthand accounts of what life is like back on the road.

Although Alonzo King LINES Ballet is based in San Francisco, the in-demand­ company typically spends much of the year on tour. So when the dancers rushed home from France in March 2020—one day before the U.S. borders closed to noncitizens—none of them knew that it would be 15 months before they’d travel for another performance. The first show back was closer to home, in Dallas last June, but by late October they were in Vancouver, and by early November they were overseas again, in the French island of Réunion, the first stop in a five-week tour of France. It was a full-circle moment that felt simultaneously “weird, but also so normal,” says dancer Madeline DeVries.

When the Omicron variant overtook headlines midway through, a sort of PTSD kicked in. “I do get nervous about not being able to get back,” said dancer Shuaib Elhassan on a Zoom call from Rennes in early December. Then the Paris Opéra Ballet, La Scala Ballet and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo canceled performances due to COVID-19 outbreaks; legal restrictions came down throughout France, closing nightclubs and banning dancing in bars and restaurants. “I was at a Christmas market and all of a sudden, officers were like, ‘It’s closed; you have to go,’ ” says DeVries.

Fortunately, the company was able to successfully complete the tour without interruptions, and the dancers made the most of it. Elhassan, who had been offstage for a few extra months due to injury, relished every performance he got: “I sometimes can get really hard on myself after shows, but I haven’t been feeling that at all out here.”

One of the pieces the dancers performed was King’s AZOTH, known for its striking lighting design by Jim French and light sculptures by Jim Campbell.

Further performances were scheduled for San Diego in January and Portland, Oregon, in February, as well as another European tour in March. “I’ve been having so much fun performing. I don’t know why,” DeVries admits. “At first it was kind of rough. My body was going through it—the jet lag and getting back into the routine. But it’s been so amazing to be in the moment and just enjoy dancing again.”

Masking Up

Throughout French theaters, the LINES dancers were allowed to be unmasked when onstage or taking class, but they put their masks back on whenever walking around the theater. However, according to DeVries, the most unusual part was not their own masks but the audiences’. “Especially during bows,” she says. “You look out and you can’t see faces. And now, when you hear someone cough…”

Madubuko and Montelongo in a duet from King’s The Personal Element.

Getting Back to the Routine

The challenges of tour life took some readjusting to. “We traveled 36 hours to get to Réunion island. That was pretty rough mentally and physically,” says Elhassan. “I’m not used to that anymore.”

For DeVries, the day-to-day schedule felt more taxing than she remembered. “Sleep is always the hardest part for me,” she says. “After shows, I have so much adrenaline, and then we need to find food. Starting a show at 8 pm doesn’t feel normal anymore. I’m surprised at the audience. A lot of the French crowd is older, too. At our last theater I swear those bows were forever long—the curtain opened and closed twice. It feels amazing, but I was like, ‘Aren’t you guys tired?’ ”

Aside from visiting typical tourist spots, one favorite off-day adventure was discovering local thrift stores. “Those are the best overseas,” says Elhassan. “I’ve never been to so many malls on tour.”
Two of the 10 dancers on the tour were new to the company—Madubuko and Quiñónez—bringing a fresh, new dynamic to the group. Following the tour, in January, LINES also welcomed Joshua Francique to the company.