For their performance at the Modlin Center, Alonzo King LINES Ballet used their intricate movements to highlight indigenous languages that are approaching extinction.
Alonzo King LINES Ballet brought their evening-length production, Figures of Speech, to the Modlin Center for the Arts on Thursday, January 23. This continuous, hour-long work expanded on precious languages near the edge of extinction, or already extinct, through movement and placement in what King calls “thought structures.”
Alonzo King LINES Ballet’s home is in San Francisco, California. They are internationally-recognized professional company whose Artistic Director, Alonzo King, is a highly-celebrated choreographer for his contributions to the modern art form. He states that his pieces manipulate energy, and my own was moved by the personality and tenderness of this conceptual ballet.
The dancers embodied these rare communicative sounds as well as themselves through twenty different movements. I had never seen a piece that could somehow pass as an entire transition yet still deliver every punch that was intended. The way the first two wings of the stage in the Alice Jepson Theatre were removed so that the audience could see the exposed lighting booms erected from floor to grid left an impression that was skeletal in a proud way; the moment you look in the mirror and realize that the face looking back can only be you.
Several languages that Figures of Speech highlighted were of American Indian origin. Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Mountain Maidu, Nisenan, and Ohlone languages are all indigenous to various parts of the midwestern US and California. This ballet not only presented an opportunity to teach a curious audience an interesting anecdote for the next time they think to speak, but keeps the memory and history of these languages alive for a little longer. The attendees leave, yet they continue to ponder the existence and death of these languages.
LINES takes a more naïve approach to the languages themselves. They aren’t claiming to be experts in this whatsoever, but they embody this feeling of discord and subtle harmony through their visceral and poignant techniques. This specific piece premiered a few years back, but King has had time to refine this work, and the result moved me so deeply that I drove home in silence. Each dancer is worthy of praise, but the work would not have been the same without Adji Cissoko’s introduction. Her movement was sharp and contained, stabbing in silence only broken by her own language.
My personal favorite section of the night was indeed the finale. The company ended vicious, individual routines by standing in a line and slowing things down a bit. The lights nearly went off when bare light illuminated their ligaments and silhouettes. They tenderly would stretch and pose in passionate, slow surges, always to end by touching the person next to them in line.
Whether they would bend over and grab their ankle or place a hand on a shoulder, each phrase would end in this sentence of dancers. They had been embodying over a dozen languages for an hour to then conclude with these sentences of the world’s history. It is amazing how King was able to accomplish this feat, all while disguising this performance as a mere work of ballet.
Top Photo: Michael Montgomery and James Gowan, LINES Ballet. Photo by Chris Hardy.