News your connection to The Boston Globe

Their lines are fine

King's glorious dancers present ballet with a twist

BECKET -- The dancers of Alonzo King's LINES Ballet looked quite at home on the stage of the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob's Pillow Wednesday night. They were flanked, on either side of the proscenium arch, by the iconic portraits of Shawn, the Pillow's founder, and his wife, Ruth St. Denis. Shawn is shown as a noble Native American chief, St. Denis as an incense-bearing priestess of the Orient.

King's dances possess the same kind of vaguely exotic quality. What country? What century? What sort of rite is going on? You can't pin down answers in either case.

The eight glorious dancers in King's company have the gorgeous good looks and compelling stage presence that Shawn and St. Denis did in their heyday. And just seeing King's group is a worth-the-trip experience. His choreography doesn't quite do them justice, though. It's a pastiche. Sometimes it suggests Alvin Ailey; sometimes it looks almost Balanchinian. Opposites though Ailey and Balanchine were, their styles shared an emphasis on bravura technique and on glamour, and King's does, too.

King formed his San Francisco-based company in 1982, a time when ballet was becoming more experimental. His choreography is, as his company's name indicates, balletic -- but with a twist. The still center of traditional Western classical dance, with torso lifted high to free the legs, has no place in his work. His dancers tie their torsos into knots, yet still manage breathtaking extensions, their legs flying skyward.

The Pillow program consists of two long pieces, ''Before the Blues" (2004) and ''Who Dressed You Like a Foreigner" (1998). The latter is the stronger. Its sections have titles including ''Duty," ''Silence," and ''Faith." The women are on pointe, and in the first duet the woman is presented by a deferential partner, as in conventional ballet. The following sections remind you that pointe work is a way of exaggerating movement, something King is very good at.

In Prince Credell, who dominates the central part of ''Foreigner," King has a virtuoso male dancer of extraordinary fluidity. At the end of the work, Brett Conway, lying as if comatose, is saved by the angelic Laurel Keen, as a shower of white specks -- they look like leftover ''Nutcracker" snow -- falls.

The weather-forecast decor carries through in ''Blues," which opens with a video of a lake at sunset and continues with skies starry, then cloudy. The work features a sinewy duet for two men who twine around each other, women whose ethereal gestures suggest ferns, and another group who look like leggy spiders, daintily picking their way across the space: All carry through the theme of nature.

''Blues" is divided into numerous sections, separated by blackouts that make for false endings and a choppy feel. Its shapelessness is underscored by the sound, which ranges from the music of Pharoah Sanders and Arcangelo Corelli to a reading from Isaiah about how those who wait upon the Lord ''shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." Choreographic zigzagging aside, the biblical quote nicely sums up what King's elegant dancers achieve.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives