Through Adji’s Eyes: The thing about home season…

By Adji Cissoko

Twice a year Alonzo King LINES Ballet performs at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. It’s always a “big deal” and I say that for two reasons…

  • Number 1: It’s usually a new creation, meaning our director Alonzo King choreographs a new ballet that premiers opening night.
  • Number 2: We only have two seasons in the city we’re based in so naturally we want to do well!

That’s all the San Francisco audience gets to see of us so everything needs to be perfect! I mean don’t get me wrong it always needs to be perfect, no matter where we dance, but it just feels extra special (probably also due to reason 1). You might wonder why only twice a year and not more often but that’s a wonder I share with you.

I like to call the weeks prior to opening night “brain weeks” because that’s creation time . I often leave rehearsal with a headache caused by all the new material in my brain. Each and every dancer has to be hyper alert to catch every step Alonzo King is showing because he only shows it once and then it’s up to the company to know it. He usually calls each dancer one by one asking us to demonstrate our individual understanding of his “phrase”.  That happens over and over again refining details and adding more choreography in the process. It’s quite stressful, but you get to be creative too. Actually you have to! Every time you’re repeating his steps you add a little bit of your own essence. And he will decide what “works” and what doesn’t. My favorite part is when we get to make up our own phrases of choreography either alone or in groups of two. Sometimes we get a theme as our guideline or a certain amount of counts, but that’s about it. If you’re lucky he decides your phrase “works” and it’ll be put in the piece! I’m proud to say that there’s a section in our most recent ballet that was choreographed by me! Some tweaks here and there are always necessary but it’s mostly been kept in its original form!

This year the company collaborated with the famous singer Lisa Fisher which was an amazing experience! Not only is her voice incredible but she’s also a sweetheart with an open-minded personality and a great sense of humor! Her and her music partner JC Maillard took the piece to a whole new level!

The days before opening night, I like to call “stress days”. At this point our bodies are usually hurting from running through the ballet multiple times a day and we start worrying about all the parts that haven’t been perfected yet. Once we get to the theatre, three days before the premiere, the stress level reaches its peak! This time around it felt even more dramatic than usual. Maybe because the ending of the ballet still wasn’t clear? Or maybe because the costumes hadn’t been decided yet?

It always feels like time is running away. There’s so much besides the dancing that needs to be considered. Spacing changes as soon as we get on stage since it’s way bigger than our studio. Lights need to be fixed for each section and sometimes each individual person. Costumes have to be seen in the lights and often be readjusted. Music cues have to be practiced and so on…

Theatre days often last till late at night. We usually finish around 11 and won’t be home before after midnight!

It’s stressful for everyone involved that’s for sure! Personally I realize only then that certain things aren’t working as they are supposed to, be it a solo or a pas de deux that’s not quite perfect yet. Suddenly I feel unprepared. Practicing those certain parts often end in frustration or even breakdowns because of the pressure felt by everyone around and the goal of perfection!

Funny enough all that pressure, stress and my worries always disappear with opening night. All of a sudden everything comes together and works out like magic! This time was no different.

During the show you get so lost in the movement and the different ideas not realizing what’s happening until it’s over and you feel pure happiness! Bowing after opening night, hearing the audience scream and applaud in excitement is indescribable rewarding.
That’s when I know it was all worth it!

After two weeks of performing the last show is always bittersweet! Naturally I’m physically exhausted from dancing every night but mentally I don’t want it to be over.

To be continued…adventures in pink!

To read more about Adji Cissoko, visit her personal blog: