Ballet: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alonzo King Lines Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

By Jane Rosenberg

On Friday evening, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage was awash with undulating, quivering bodies at the West coast premiere of Alonzo King’s Scheherazade and his latest choreographic venture, Azimuth, in collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance.  Drawing on diverse dance idioms, from Western Classical to Persian, Indian, and African, to name a few, King’s powerful dancers displayed a mastery of his complex and dizzying dance vocabulary. Of the two ballets, Azimuth had the more coherent structure, offering the audience the visual space to contemplate the choreography.

Although Scheherazade had a number of inspired moments, as when Scheherazade and Shahryar dance, bound together by rope from ankle to ankle, the overall effect of the eight segments was of an overly ornamental and cluttered procession of non-stop motion. In particular, arms, ceaselessly cutting the air or describing curves, added to the confusion. In stating his intentions, King calls the title character the “symbol of the savior,” weaving “tales not to save her own life, but to save humanity from its unending, retributive response to injury.” A thoughtful premise, and at its best it seeped into the choreography, but at its weakest it became a mere stylistic display.

Scheherazade from “Play Me A Story: A Child’s Introduction to Classical Music” copyright 1994 by Jane Rosenberg.

Even with his female dancers on point, King doesn’t give them characteristically feminine movements. In Azimuth, where the women are not on point, the androgynous steps of male and female are satisfying; however in Scheherazade dancers on point seemed to render the work awkward and strained, minimizing the sensuality of a piece that begs to be erotic.  Kara Wilkes, in the featured role, was able to overcome these limitations, with her elastic fragility and innate gracefulness.  As Shahryar, David Harvey brought a subtlety to King’s choreography and delivered a seasoned performance.

The music, based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s lush symphonic suite, was interpreted and re-imagined by Indian tabla musician, Zakir Hussain. One wished the instrumentalists were there in person. Unfortunately, it suffered in recording.  In part, Hussain gave us an Arabic infused version of the original music, which was quite effective, putting me in mind of Duke Ellington’s interpretations of Tchaikovsky and Grieg.  But these segments were interwoven with a series of disconnected percussive sections, which, though interesting in themselves, interrupted the flow of the dance.  A heavy silk backdrop created by Robert Rosenwasser was appropriately luxurious as were his costumes, co-created with Colleen Quen.

Hubbard St Lines duoAzimuth, danced by both King’s company and the Hubbard Street dancers was a more successful merging of dance and music.  And with quieter choreography, one was able to appreciate the intricacies of the movement of torsos and legs. Though performed by a larger ensemble, with the vivacious and skilled Hubbard Street dancers on board, clearer patterns and a cleaner structure made for a more successful piece than its predecessor. Meredith Webster’s mastery of King’s aesthetic, along with her athleticism, shone bright in her solo and in her final dance with David Harvey.  Original recorded music by Ben Juodvalkis complemented the dancing but felt a bit like a new age tour through world religions.

Sandwiched between King’s two productions, but by no means less important, was a lovely poem of a dance entitled Little Mortal Jumps, choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, Hubbard Street’s resident choreographer.  Opening with a vaudevillian sweetness and poignancy, the human scale of the piece immediately absorbed and entranced, and the versatile Hubbard Street dancers performed it to perfection.  In one section, the ensemble that had gathered on stage fled, leaving two dancers, male and female, helplessly mounted on blocks, attached like Velcro puppets to the walls and just out of reach of each other.  As they unzipped their coats to extricate themselves from the walls, they began a childlike exploration of each other.

As Little Mortal Jumps proceeded, it grew darker, but all the while maintained a sense that, although we may be tossed about by the vagaries of life, through our shared humanity we can persevere with humor and courage.  The set, by the choreographer, used large, black minimalist blocks as partitions, merging visual art with dance in a symbiotic way.  The lighting by Michael Korsch and costumes by Branimira Ivanova completed the harmonious whole.  The music, a compendium of various artists from Tom Waits to Philip Glass, informed the dance while the dance informed the music – one couldn’t ask for much more.

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Photos by Margo Moritz. 

To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for ChildrenJane is also the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.

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