Theater & art

Dance review

Wild wonders from Alonzo King LINES Ballet at Jacob’s Pillow

Morah Geist

BECKET — With the amount of undulating in choreographer Alonzo King’s ballets, his San Francisco-based company might just as well be called Squiggles Ballet, but LINES Ballet it is. If King’s stage often pulses with wiggling kineticism, the group’s name finds its aptness in the dancers’ bodies, and the shapes they make with them. Occasionally, a leg is extended ear-high and just hovers, long enough for us to admire both its beauty and its owner’s preternaturally calm balance.

Though the company is noted for its tall, long-limbed, super-flexible dancers, the current members, performing this week at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, aren’t all like that. A couple of the men are, compared with some of the women, shorter and not quite as loose in the hips. They move with a much lower center of gravity and are able to do so very quickly, Babatunji and Jeffrey Van Sciver with floorwork and Michael Montgomery in his speedy shifts of direction. Shu-aib Elhassan, though, is tall and limber, and like some of the women, he will just unfurl a seemingly boneless leg up and up. Robb Beresford and guest Nicholas Korkos are brooding, quiet but powerful.

“Men’s Quintet,” an excerpt from the 2008 “The Radius of Convergence,” is a teaser, much too brief but offering a terrific solo for Montgomery and a tantalizing hint of Greek-chorus drama from the others.


The women, meanwhile, demonstrate arresting differences of execution; of the really tall ones, Adji Cissoko and Courtney Henry are regal and cool, while Madeline Devries is eccentric. All the women possess refined musculature and shapely feet, but again, these assets aren’t cut from a mold. Laura O’Malley is taut, Kara Wilkes sinuous.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Ultimately, what King celebrates is individuality. Indeed, in the recent “Biophony,” King seems less concerned with creating a clear through-line than with providing time and space for his charges to do their thing. In many of his works for the group, his dancers are moved and sculpted in a creaturely fashion, and in this longish piece, set to “bioacoustician” Bernie Krause’s collection of natural sounds and costumed in Robert Rosenwasser’s lovely wardrobe of pale greens and oranges accented with feathery skirts or pants and wispy tunics, they are in their habitat.

There’s something Merce Cunningham-esque in the random groupings. Cunningham’s dancers also often seemed like creatures, but they were like rare birds in an aviary, whereas King’s dancers are wilder. Daring in their freedom, they throw themselves into balances and turns that sometimes quiver at the top as they toy with the physics of it all.

Though the busy scenes are at times sublimely chaotic, at other times there is so much going on that it can’t all be taken in. Fortunately, more privacy is given to the long, languid duet for Beresford and Wilkes, in which she tips into him over and over, and he catches her softly, protectively, then promenades her
in whatever off-kilter position she has fallen into.

The 2013 “Concerto for Two Violins” is bustling, too, but overall it’s a more streamlined commotion (sometimes, at least in the ensemble sections, two dancers might be doing the same thing at the same time). The dance is set to the familiar J. S. Bach composition that George Balanchine used for his revered “Concerto Barocco;” the swoony, weight-sharing quartet is filled with the dancers’ joined hands or bodies, reminiscent of Mr. B’s choreographic daisy chains.


The first and last sections, however, conjure Mark Morris in the exuberant jumps and turns, the jubilantly windmilling arms. The flip side of LINES’ individuality is that in the few truly unison moments, the company doesn’t agree — exactly, as an ensemble should — on nuances in timing and spatial placement of the body. If this visual acuity was missing, the overall spirit of celebratory camaraderie was palpable. Though each is all in this King’s land, they are also all for one when the occasion calls.


At: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, through Sunday. Tickets: $10-$75. 413-243-0745,

Janine Parker can be reached at