by Elizabeth Whelan for The Dance Journal
Crickets chirped their nighttime refrain as the dancers emerged from the shadows of the wings. From the first animalistic whoosh of an arm, it was clear that Alonzo King’s latest work, Biophony, was of another nature- or perhaps the nature that humans have strayed from during our evolutionary journey.
Once the piece began, it would be a while before the LINES dancers allowed their bodies to refrain from the constant, fluid motion that is characteristic of the San Francisco-based company. King’s company started up in 1982 and has been challenging the idea of ballet and consistently raising the bar of contemporary dance since. To say the company members are extra-ordinary or super-human is an understatement. Created in collaboration with soundscape ecologist and American musician Bernie Krause, Biophony offered a chance for the dancers fully invest themselves within their incredible movement capabilities without the limitations of average human disposition.
The work was a masterpiece in its entirety. Krause, who appeared on TEDGlobal in 2013, explains that sound is broken down into three parts: geophony; the natural sounds of the earth such as wind or waves, biophony; the sounds of living organisms within the ecosystems, and anthrophony; the sounds humans make. Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the performance was the silence with which the dancers moved. Creating hardly any noise as they leapt through the space, the silence of the anthrophony allowed for the biophony to truly be heard. Their movement was like watching ink in water- liquefied, yet with complete mastery over their bodies and gravity. Choreographically, King accomplished the task of returning the human body to the natural rhythms of nature.
The sounds created for a trip around the world in under an hour. From the rainforests of the Amazon to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, up into the arctic planes of Alaska and back to the depths of the sea, Krause’s soundscape composition and musical score by Richard Blackford allowed for King to transport his dancers to the world humanity was always meant to be a part of.
Intermission brought about no pause in the exceptional physical feats of the company, performing in Pearson-Hall Theatre at Swarthmore College for a full house. The Propelled Heart, originally premiered in November 2015, brought with it the rawness of our capability as humans to feel, hope, love and seek truth. King’s choice to pair the two works in one evening seems anything but coincidence: Biophony, a tribute our true nature as animals opposed to The Propelled Heart, which shed light on the complexities of human emotion and spiritual evolution. As a complete program, King covered the whole spectrum of human experience.
Swami Sri Yukteswar, the author of The Holy Silence, writes about the five stages of the heart: dark, propelled, steady, devoted, and clean. Of the propelled heart, he says, “When a man becomes a little enlightened… his heart becomes propelled to learn the real nature of the universe and, struggling to clear his doubts, seeks for evidence to determine what is truth.” King, enormously inspired by this writing, used it for impetus to create movement. The completed piece was stunning; capturing the subtleties of love through intimate partnering and exploring how interpersonal relationships aid in spiritual progression.
The dancers weaved around one another, creating intricate patterns as they threaded one movement to the next. Their impeccable technique and artistry made way for total surrender to the choreography and to one another. Moving in complete trust, the LINES dancers lifted and maneuvered each other through the fleeting shapes that arose like waves cresting and crashing on a shore.
Arranged and performed by Grammy award winning vocalist Ms Lisa Fischer and JC Maillard, the music for the work included beautifully written lyrics that set the tone for the movement. “If I lose my mind, I would not be blind, but see in another way,” she sang. Her lyrics spoke of a wisdom that runs deep within the soul, the same wisdom that Sri Yukteswar writes of.
The company will continue on for two more performances in Pennsylvania and one in New York before heading overseas to France, where they will perform no less than 23 times throughout Europe. While their tour literally takes them around the world, there is no denying that Alonzo King LINES accomplishes that journey for the audience each night within the walls of the theatre. There was no question for a standing ovation—it seemed to be the least we could do was to stand up on our own two feet after LINES swept us off them for the night.
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