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Alonzo King’s Lines and Kronos Quartet Find Common Ground

October 13, 2018

Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Lines Dance Company’s fall engagement at Yerba Buena Theater, which concludes Sunday, offered two of Artistic Director Alonzo King’s ballets. The first, the 2005 Handel, was created for the Swedish Royal Ballet and set to excerpts from three organ concerti, his Water Music, and two concerto grossi. The second ballet, Common Ground, a world premiere, is the product of a collaboration with the sainted Kronos Quartet, which played live onstage.

Of the two, Handel is less interesting, offering a series of well-executed movement studies. The dozen dancers perform together or in smaller groups and duos, juxtaposed against the music’s grandeur or simplicity. Despite the wealth of possibilities, Handel’s maneuvers outdistance King’s.

The movement studies seem to be about relationships, sensitivities, obligations, favors, behaviors. These are picked up, handled briefly, and dropped in favor of the next sequence; the net effect is a muted “no comment.” A group of men dance together, assertively and a mite combatively; a group of women constitute a sisterly trio or quartet. A man aggressively pokes a woman in the center of her back; a man carefully supports a woman in an extended turn, her body at a 45-degree angle; a woman droops heavily against a man and he supports her; a woman supports a man in an extended balance; two men, on their haunches, press forward like attacking baboons; the improbably long-legged Adji Cissoko solos stunningly for a moment. She exits, then returns to bend low on straight legs, arms browsing the floor like a grazing doe.

Robert Rosenwasser’s costume designs, in pleasant shades of blue, include leotards, tunics with pants, and one very short, iridescent white tutu, an attention getter for its brevity, but hardly the soul of wit.

Common Ground is a laudable collaboration between Lines and Kronos to encourage the free sharing of art to help grow new artists. Kronos’s music is a suite of pieces — by Trey Spruance, Merlijn Twaalfhoven, Yotam Haber, and Aleksander Kościów — drawn from its Fifty for the Future project, a five-year effort to commission 50 works designed to be shared with other chamber groups, players, and music departments. The first 25 pieces are already downloadable as sheet music — free — from the Kronos website.

Common Ground opens with scenes of a misty ocean and seabirds projected on a scrim, giving way to a foggy stage, all but obscuring Kronos upstage. As the fog clears, the dancers appear, wearing white gauzy costumes adorned with little ruffles, like the curl of a wave. The women are in soft shoes; the effect is naturalistic and quite mellow.

Like Handel, Common Ground assorts the dancers into changing sizes of groups. Here, though, King appears more in tune with the music, and some bright imaginings come forth as the fog lifts. Twaalfhoven’s Play lends itself to a dual interpretation — musicians playing their instruments, playfully, skillfully beating their strings into drums and keeping time with their feet. The play sends the dancers into a near-reel, lines of Lines moving forward and back and round and round. Other times the music sounds like echt Kronos, with gorgeously melodic discord and the juicy power of overlapping tones, calling forth strings of pas de deux as dancers pair with shifting partners. This is a dance that shows the company’s ability to shift interpretive gears on a dime, as well as their impeccable musicality and the beauty of their neatly assorted physicalities. All that and gorgeous ballet-framed yet all-daring technique gives the real answer to what Common Ground at its best entails.

Janice Berman was an editor and senior writer at New York Newsday. She is a former editor in chief of Dance Magazine.