“Dancers have to look at everything that has ever been made: buildings, paintings, this Earth, the planets, the universes…observing everything [and] explore and challenge mainstream notions…. People have to find out who they really are. That’s the first quest.”—Alonzo King
Alonzo King, choreographer, artistic director, and co-founder of Alonzo King LINES Ballet is recognized and applauded for his unique artistic vision. King’s works have a world stage in leading ballet and modern companies’ repertories. Named one of America’s “Irreplaceable Dance Treasures” by the Dance Heritage Coalition, King holds an honorary Doctorate from Dominican University, California Institute of the Arts, and the Juilliard School.
In reflecting upon his early experiences of dance and his training, King shares that “movement was an internal part of my being. It was something that I did all the time. My mother was a dancer, and she was an inspiration to me. And then I went to a formal academic education with the School of American Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet School, and Harkness Ballet.”
King further elaborates on the subject of movement and its fullness. “Movement is the principal expression of life. The heart is beating, the brain is synapsing, blood is rushing through the veins. The peristaltic process—healing—many diseases pass through our bodies that could have been fatal but they are worked out so that this machine of breath and willpower [present] signs that this thing is living. There’s a radiation from rocks and plants, so movement is the principal expression of life, whether we’re in war or whether we are being kind to each other…. There are natural spaces that are also moving with life and they have an effect on us. Our internal world, which is the instrument we dance from because dancers are musicians.”
King shares that he doesn’t see differentiations between the styles of what one may describe as contemporary or modern from classical ballet, but instead, he respects the basic influences threading through what has always existed. “There is nothing new under the sun. And so people are often fooled by style; classical ballet or what is a more precise term, Western classical dance, is based in science and nature. It is a science of movement. It’s replete with styles that come from choreographers that come from ways of thinking and different periods that come from trends. But in its essence, it is a technique, a scientific technique of movement. I wouldn’t define ballet by the choreographic looks of certain choreographers or certain periods in history. I would define it by its origin in nature and science.”
Connecting culture to the evolution and expression of dance, King suggests the importance of the “bird’s eye view” where one “can step back and see the progression of history, what dance is, and regardless of what form it’s in or what culture or who are the masters of dance, it’s a mind-boggling study in ancient cultures…. So, in its very beginning, dance arose from spirit. Dance arose from what can be experienced that is beyond the five senses. And can I get information from that experience through movement or contradict it, as it may seem, through stillness. And so this specified idea of bodies moving in space—whether they’re planetary bodies or human bodies—are connected.”
In furthering a tenet of his practice, emphasis is placed upon recognizing the full scope of history. “Every culture looks back to the golden age of a previous culture.” However, King acknowledges this is limiting, as many do not go back to the beginning to trace the full story arc. This stilted view of history leaves out important contributions and breeds opportunities for inflection points “where racism entered to cut off the block, the legacy and connection.”
This importance of accurate representation is founded in the pursuit of truth. As King noted earlier, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” so one’s pursuit is based on an “obsession with finding truth, with stepping into what you consider to be the truth of how things are.” To impart his meaning, he provides the example of one who is “inspired by nature in its manner of operation.” If this person created a painting, they would not “imitate a flower” but “try to connote the essence of the flower, the idea and the meaning that it’s conveying. And so the look of the flower is what we would call appearance. The meaning of the flower is what we would call its conveyance.”
In transferring this idea to dance, King finds “ballets [to be] thought structures, and we can look at them, and we can argue with them, or we can agree with them… The tuning fork used by choreographers, painters, mothers, and fathers raising children…is [asking] is this true? And if it’s true, it is therefore beautiful because truth and beauty are the same. And so that’s the obsession from the beginning of planet Earth until the end of planet Earth—is what I’m presenting and saying, is there truth emanating from this statement, this painting, this writing, this novel…”
Furthermore, “dancers have to look at everything that has ever been made: buildings, paintings, this Earth, the planets, the universes…observing everything [and] explore and challenge mainstream notions…. People have to find out who they really are. That’s the first quest.”
King’s philosophy on movement and truth is entrenched within the mission and purpose of Alonzo King LINES Ballet which functions “to nurture artistry and the development of creative expression in dance, through collaboration, performance, and education.” King’s artistic vision lives through the core ideology of his studio that “recognizes that art lives within each and every one of us; strives to balance law and intuition; believes in the full potentiality of the human being; invests in imagination and creativity.” Equally important, is the environment that “embraces a spirit of inquiry and openness to change combined with a reverence for legacy and history.”
On Wednesday, February 8, King will present an onstage master class working with Colburn Dance Academy students on new choreography that he has developed as part of his Amplify residency. This master class is open to the public and will be livestreamed.
Learn more about Alonzo King and Lines Ballet.
The Amplify Series
This series celebrates the careers of artists of color through a number of on-campus, short-term residencies that include performances, master classes, and panel discussions. Colburn supports each artist with institutional resources including recording projects, marketing support, and engagement work in the community through the Center for Innovation and Community Impact.
In addition to Alonzo King, artists for the 2022–23 Amplify Series are Thomas Mesa, cellist and first prize-winner of the Sphinx Competition, and Kris Bowers (Community School ’06), pianist and Emmy Award-winning composer. Past Amplify Artists include violist and composer Nokuthula Ngwenyama (Community School ’93), bassoonist Andrew Brady (Conservatory ’13), bassist Marlon Martinez (Conservatory ’15), and former New York City Ballet member Silas Farley, Dean of Trudl Zipper Dance Institute.