Dancing between lights and shadow

It’s telling that that the Alonzo King LINES ballet now called “Constellations” was originally the named, in a Dali-esque phrase, “The calming effect of shadow dispersing clarity,” as Alonzo King reveals in the pre-curtain talk; he is a poet of words as well as bodies. This ballet is a collaboration with artist Jim Campbell, who worked with LED-lit spheres to create nets and screens that serve as backdrops for the dancers, who also interact with individual spheres during the ballet. It all comes together in a graceful, powerful, surreal ballet: the rawness of the dancers’ bodies in minimalist costumes, the technology elements, the striking soundtrack. The dancers move to ambient and electronic soundscapes, which suddenly give way to Russian Orthodox choral music. In some scenes,  mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani joins the ensembles on stage in a commanding red gown.

I had never seen the LINES company, which falls closer on the spectrum to Jiri Kylian than to the Balanchine lines of the San Francisco Ballet Company. The dancers are constantly moving, an arm changing direction while the torso continues the motion. They seem to be boneless one minute, angular the next. The electronic elements in the ballet never overshadow the dancing, but the interaction is beautiful. At the opening of the ballet, the spheres seem to hang like fireflies over the dark stage. Dancers touch or toss or roll the individual spheres or step through the LED netting. In one scene, a dancer creates fire-dancer-like light trails with the LED spheres he holds, and is eventually backlit by a fire-evoking LED screen that “ignites” out of the darkness behind him, eliciting gasps from the audience.

For me, the most spine-tingling scene in “Constellations” happens when 3 male dancers move in front of a bright LED screen to a soundtrack of swishes and cutting swoops. There is something slightly menacing and martial in this minimalist arrangement. It is not until low-resolution bird silhouettes start sweeping across the LED screen that the sound resolves conclusively into wing beats.

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