Dance Magazine Award Honoree: Alonzo King

December 1, 2020

This week we’re sharing tributes to all the
2020 Dance Magazine Award honorees
. For tickets to our virtual ceremony taking place December 7, visit

You can’t mistake Alonzo King’s dances. Performed with utmost confidence and uncommon grace, they offer sky-high extensions, unexpected shifts of position and fractured lines that dissolve into velvety descents or whipping turns. Duets sputter into spine-tingling trios where individual limbs disappear.

The son of Slater King and Valencia King Nelson, both engaged in the racial justice movement, King grew up in Georgia and California, and, as an adult, decided his contribution would be teaching and choreography. In 1982, having established himself as a well-respected teacher, he founded Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Believing that everyone has the potential to grow through dance, seven years later he opened what was then known as the San Francisco Dance Center, offering classes for both professionals and the community.

From his perspective, gearing concert dance toward display and entertainment short-changes a dancer’s potential and an audience’s opportunity to get in touch with a reality beyond the easily consumable. So for the last 30 years or so, King has choreographed what he calls “thought structures,” a physical and metaphysical process in which the dancer shapes movement material to arrive at something close to who the dancer is. King gives it its final form. He calls ballet “the science of movement” and once said that if it didn’t already exist, it would have to be invented.

While the symphonic repertoire—Bach and Handel, Ligeti and Shostakovich—offers musical ideas for King’s dancemaking, he also reaches to artistic traditions from around the globe. These works stand as a tribute to and a mark of respect for the original sources.

He collaborated with the BaAka Nzamba Lela dancers and musicians from the Central African Republic for 2001’s The People of the Forest; the 2005 Moroccan Project featured Moroccan musicians and vocalists. In the 2007 Long River, High Sky, King set Shaolin monks’ spiritually guided athleticism to music from Melody of China. More recently, King reached beyond music for the 2015 Biophony, which he set on Bernie Krause’s collection of sounds from nature.

This summer, company dancers individually worked in the great outdoors on a quintet of dance films called There Is No Standing Still. Among a slender grove of trees, alongside a stream or between rock formations, the solos connect the dancers to each other from their homes in France, Mexico, Canada, Arizona, California, Illinois and other places. With more than 160 works to his name, not even the coronavirus has dampened King’s prodigious energy.

Dance Magazine in celebrating Alonzo King at the December 7 virtual Dance Magazine Awards ceremony. Tickets are now available here.