Arts and Entertainment | Dance

San Francisco’s LINES uses dance to explore space with ‘Constellation’

  • WALK THE LINE | LINES dancers capture the abstraction of form central to "Constellation"

As the dancers seamlessly craft inhuman shapes with their limbs, it is evident that LINES is no misnomer for Alonzo King’s masterful contemporary ballet company, which pushes the alleged boundaries of corporeality.

Originally staged in 2012, “Constellation” is a full-length piece that considers the vastness of the universe and the moments of intimacy that we share with the stars. More of a meditation than a production, King’s work is contemplative and challenges the audience’s conceptions of physicality.

 The choreography is set to Baroque and contemporary scores that alternate randomly and fluidly throughout the program—though the musical genres are distinct, they somehow relate and interweave to appear an extension of one another. Unlike most of the repertoire presented at the Joyce Theater this season, “Constellation” benefits from the dynamic force of live vocals and instrumentals, as mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani migrates around the stage, and Hadley McCarroll plays the piano alongside viewers.  

When the curtain rises, Lahyani enters. Her deep and expressive voice accompanies the androgynous figure of Meredith Webster, whose movements obfuscate the gender binary. Soon, other members of the cast join Webster, their sculptured muscles complementing Jim Campbell’s interactive installation, which imitates celestial bodies in the sky. As haunting music combines with aesthetically stunning visuals, LINES fosters an otherworldly mood, inviting its audience to venture into the figurative ether for an hour and a half.

It would be disingenuous to claim that LINES’ artists float, for that description would ignore their grounding and stability. Instead, they glide along the marley, alternating between long, lean lines and stunted segments to create a juxtaposition that defies singularity and homogeneity. As a translucent, black veil falls from the rigs midway through the first act, the dancers become even more vivid and highlighted, and whether because of sweat or the transcendence of mortality, they shine like stars under the stage lights.

To conclude Act 1, Yujin Kim and Robb Beresford share a pas de deux filled with emotion and expression. Beresford stands dressed in black, stoic and dispassionate, while Kim experiences an unknown pressure that pulls her toward her partner. Much like dust near a black hole, Kim can’t escape Beresford’s grasp once she nestles too closely to him. She is desperate as he maneuvers her aimlessly, and though the narrative seems safe when placed in a distant galaxy, it is too close for comfort when some of the positions evoke abuse and misogyny.

After intermission, small orbs of light outline Michael Montgomery’s anatomy on a dark stage so that spectators enjoy a glimpse of his physique as he travels around the theater. Once the auditorium is again a shade of red, green, or yellow, Montgomery employs adroit tricks with his orbs, clutching them, for example, between his calf and hamstring while doing a somersault. Indeed, the second half of the ballet contains multiple daring surprises, one of which is an abundance of male-on-male pas de deux that counter the closing scene from the first half.

Another tremendous revelation is the ability of Courtney Henry, who is unfortunately underused throughout “Constellation.” Though none of the performers wear pointe shoes, Henry seems suspended no matter the instance, and during a développé à la seconde, she defies the limitations of her own skin to delineate an image that is nothing short of unearthly.  

Act 2 also ends in a pas de deux, this time between Webster and David Harvey. The choreography is egalitarian—unlike classical and neoclassical ballet partnering, which is often criticized for its emphasis on the man’s dominance over the woman, this meaningful tableau is of a mutualistic relationship between two frames that become one. In a perfect snapshot, Webster rotates her leg from front to side in a grand rond de jambe, and her hip almost melts into oblivion as her appendage shoots into a 180-degree line. After a brief interlude where the corps reconvenes for a final effort, the couple is again in the spotlight, and, as Harvey lifts her limp body, Webster demonstrates a vulnerability that is only noninvasive because of the harmonious and delicate partnership that was previously on display.

Although at times the mellow sounds of Vivaldi interspersed with wind chimes or storm noises can feel monotonous, “Constellation” is more than an exercise in energy—it is a journey through space that offers a reflection on humanity. If the choreographer is a painter and the dancer is a canvas, then King chose just the right mix of color and subject to make an impression on his passersby.

Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet will play at the Joyce (175 Eighth Ave.) through March 23. Tickets start from $10.   

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