he Japanese composer Somei Satoh draws inspiration from both the Shinto and Zen traditions for his musical creations. He is particularly
interested in the Shinto concept he calls ‘imanaka’. This term refers to a moment in time – this present moment – and also the multi-dimensional and multi-layered potential of the present moment to
represent all past and future moments. Inspired by Eastern religion and philosophy, Somei’s music explores how sound and silence affect the listeners’ conceptions of time and space. His latest composition,
commissioned by Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet Company, uses repetition, elongation of tones, and the aesthetic incorporation of silence to
illustrate these ideas. King’s territory is naturally the space on the stage, which he fills to the brim with his distinctive movement vocabulary.
King has a long and exciting history of commissioning and collaborating with composers from throughout the world. Anticipation of these
collaborations is one of the great pleasures of the Lines Ballet Company’s annual home season performed in San Francisco each spring. Created in 1982, Lines has developed into an international
touring company and King has set choreography on companies including the Frankfurt Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Hong Kong Ballet and Washington Ballet. During the period that
Lines has ascended, the San Francisco Ballet has simultaneously become internationally recognized for its local and international performances of a wide-ranging repertoire. In spite of the apparent
competition from the giant SFB, Lines has carved out its own large and devoted following. King has also created a thriving dance center that serves thousands of students of ballet and modern dance.
This year’s home season featured the premiere of ‘Satoh’ with music by Somei Satoh, and ‘ Three Stops on the Way Home’, a piece from 1997
with a commissioned score by Pharoah Sanders, and a new work with music by Wieslsaw Pogorzelski and Jim McKee entitled ‘Odd Fellow.’
In ‘Satoh’ the dancers did not appear to be inspired by the infinite potential of the present moment. Striving to fulfill the demands of the
choreography, they were typical Westerners hard at work. In two duos, the first performed by Drew Jacoby and John Michael Schert and the second by Laurel Keen and Prince Credell, the couples temporarily
transcend a series of awkward moments and painfully difficult movements in repeated struggles for autonomy. The length of the women’s bodies is accentuated by their near constant stance en pointe
even while also taking advantage of the proximity of the floor to use their hands for balance. The flat-footed men used the force of brute strength combined with an acute understanding of counter-balance to
attempt to contain their clever and wily partners. The busy intensity of the two duets was relieved only by the serene appearance of Chiharu
Shibata in a bird-like study of sustained stillness. She appears to face a failing body and the eventuality of death with peaceful acceptance.
Having danced with Lines since 1989, Shibata is the reigning master of King’s style. Her command of the movement allows her to communicate
with the audience in an evocative way that sets her apart from the other dancers. Perhaps this is because of the others’ preoccupation with the formidable physical challenges of the choreography.
The mystical and mysterious musical composition “Satoh” was performed live by David Abel on violin and Lynn Taffin on the harp. It
was followed by “Three Stops on the Way Home”. Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders wrote, performed and recorded this extended suite with a battery of fine instrumentalists including the phenomenal Miya Masaoka
on koto. The piece begins with the percussive tones Masaoka conjures from the koto before the curtain opens revealing Drew Jacoby and Laurel Keen facing each other center stage in a game of distorted
mirror reflections. The authoritative and captivating Prince Credell enters, pulls the two together, one in each of his hands. Then he tosses
them away. The unique sound of Pharoah Sander’s vibrating reed calls through rumbling percussion as Credell responds with a solo highlighting his graceful strength and flexibility.
The second section of “Home” is an emotionally satisfying pas de quatre performed exquisitely by Shibata and her three impressive
consorts: Brett Conway, John Michael Schert and Gregory Dawson. Beginning with the stage asymmetrically divided along gender lines, the
men walked on all fours with legs and arms outstretched until eventually pulling, pushing and supporting Shibata in a series of intricate lifts. As with ‘Satoh’, she lured the audience into her world.
A third piece entitled “Odd Fellow” would be an interesting work for children as it conveys the group’s insistence on reinforcing Brett
Conway’s outsider status. The choreography has a cartoon-ish quality as Conway tries various antics to be accepted by configurations of
dancers representing the status quo. He is especially lovable as he eats a sandwich center-stage at the end of the piece under a bubble
umbrella. Apparently no longer preoccupied with the trials of belonging, he looks like a satisfied child.
All three pieces were enhanced by the striking lighting design of Axel Morgenthaler and costumes by Robert Rosenwasser, Colleen Quen and Sandra Woodall.
If, as Satoh suggests, composers are devoted to understanding how silence is animated by sound, then choreographers explore how space
is enlivened with movement. King’s signature movement vocabulary includes leg extensions with raised hips, hunched shoulders, chins lowered and downcast eyes: all verboten in traditional classical ballet.
What at first appears idiosyncratic reveals itself as a codified language spoken by all of the Lines dancers. This is not to say that uniformity, a
highly sought after standard in most classical ballet companies, is encouraged. King’s generous vision persuades the dancers to express
their individuality. In the final scene of “Three Stops on the Way Home,” each dancer takes liberties with the phrasing of the music, providing
insight into the vast potential of human interpretation rather than the insistence of a single choreographer’s will.