Alonzo King cuts a unique figure in the contemporary dance world — an African-American choreographer who creates original works within the traditions and structures of classical ballet.
But King is no mere purist, nor a chip-on-the-shoulder revisionist. Instead, his choreography both embodies and reveals the essential, underlying qualities that define ballet itself — the rigor, the mathematical precision, the sense of proportion rooted in the human body.
Later this month, King and his acclaimed touring company, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, will return to St. Louis for two shows in Washington University’s Edison Theatre.
Performances, sponsored by the Edison Ovations Series, will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22-23.
Born to a prominent civil rights family, King is the son of activist Slater King, who helped pioneer low-income housing in Albany, Ga., and the grandson of C.W. King, who founded the Albany chapter of the NAACP. His mother, Valencia King Nelson, is founder of AfriGeneas and a pioneer in the area of black genealogy.
Raised primarily in Santa Barbara, Calif., King credits his mother with fostering his creative tendencies. He studied dance at the Harkness School of Ballet, Alvin Ailey’s Dance School and George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, among others, and later performed with such companies as Honolulu City Ballet, Santa Barbara Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem.
King founded LINES Ballet in San Francisco in 1982. To date, he has created more than 160 works for the company, earning a reputation for visionary choreography that infuses classical techniques with new expressive potential.
Though he has set dances to music by Barber, Handel, Shostakovich and other classical masters, King also has recruited a range of unexpected collaborators, from jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders and Japanese composer Miya Masaoka to the Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain and Pygmy artists from the Central African Republic.
“Who would have thought that ballet — so historically Western, hierarchical and white — could be renewed by an African-American child of the civil rights movement whose aesthetic vision and inquiring mind are pushing it out of its provincial state and into the world?” asked Jennifer Homans, dance critic for The New Republic.
“LINES is not just a ballet company,” Homans continued. “It is a laboratory, an artists’ retreat, a school, a community, and a test of King’s notion of what dance and dancers can be.”
In addition to his work with LINES, King has choreographed for Frankfurt Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey, Hong Kong Ballet, Washington Ballet and Dresden Ballet, among others. His numerous honors include four Isadora Duncan Awards, the Jacob’s Pillow Creativity Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Choreographers Fellowship.
Tickets and sponsors
Performances take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22 and 23. Tickets are $36, or $32 seniors, $28 for Washington University faculty and staff and $20 for students and children.
Tickets are available at the Edison Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
Edison programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors.