LINES Ballet company members Adji Cissoko and Shuaib Elhassan in rehearsal.

In The Studio: Why Alonzo King Thinks Politicians Need To Dance More

At 5'10" I felt like an ant in the studio with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. The San Francisco-based company is full of statuesque dancers whose passion is infectious. Every story was told not only through their movement, but through the expression on their faces and their connection to one another.

We talked to artistic director Alonzo King about his love of collaborations and why he thinks politicians need to dance more.


What are some of the things that draw you to working with collaborators from other disciplines?

Anyone who is brilliant—regardless of their discipline—I want to work with them. I'm drawn to people who have thought of not what they're going to get from something but what they going to bring to it. What do they have that is unique that they can bring as an offering? You want the access to their genius, but you also want access to their child. They can be masterful and bring their full opinion on a subject but they're able to also cut it off and be a little kid. They work like a duality.

Is that something you expect from your dancers as well?

I think of the dancers as collaborators. It's a small company and we're together a lot. So, you want to make sure you're in a community of people who you genuinely enjoy being around. In terms of art-making, I love someone who at whatever stage in their life they feel like they can do more. Because sometimes you have a dancer who is brilliant but they burn out. Being in a relationship with dance is like being in a relationship with a human being. After 30 or 40 years you have to think, How do I keep it alive and not take it for granted?

In terms of the dance community on a larger scale, is there anything you would like to see more of in 2018?

I'd like to see politicians dancing. I'd like to see the world practicing art. Because the introspection from true art practice can't lie.

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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