Andre Bishop, Producing Artistic Director, Lincoln Center Theatre: “An enriching book for everyone, CREATE! captures the passion of creativity in the theater, music, dance, in fact, all the arts. An invaluable guide to the inner workings of the artist’s vision.”
Interview with Alonzo King:
Q: You have called your works: “thought structures” created by the manipulation of energies that exist in matter through laws, which govern the shapes and movement directions of everything that exists.” How do those who dance your work learn this way of working?
A: All life processes have an underlying mathematical description and possess intelligent self-organization. We look for and study them, in everything that we observe. The manner in which clouds form and dissipate, the patterns on the skins of animals, ferns, leaves, ice crystals, sea shells; similar patterns repeat themselves in exhaustless invention. These patterns are mathematical, symbolic, and index fingers pointing to the Spirit and Nature conundrum, as exemplified in ancient architecture and sacred geometry.
Choreography is thought made visible. Literally taking vibratory blue prints from the ideational world and birthing them into form. The dancer has to understand what is being expressed and communicated in choreographed forms. Keen intelligence is not enough. It has to come from an inner knowing by inhabiting the movement forms and listening to what those physical structures are saying. The dancer has to step into the consciousness that emanates from those physical forms and by absorption, become them.
“You have to become the horse before you can paint the horse.” To imitate or mimic the horse, or merely draw the horse’s likeness misses the mark. You must inhabit and become the object of your concentration. Two becomes One. The query presented to the dancer is to answer what these shapes mean, and on multiple levels present their exegesis. The dancer answers those questions through their understanding. As the singer interprets and brings life, meaning and understanding to lyrics; the dancer does the same interpretation, singing in the language of movement.
The way the body works is in coordination with the working principles of how everything works in the world. The knowledge of those mechanics and primordial truths inform the way we work. There is no single force in the universe. We live in a world of duality where joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, sickness and health, attraction and repulsion work together, you can’t have one without the other. Darkness and Light are needed to tell the story. Everything that is put out is returned. Diversity is a trick. As fascinating as diversity is, particularly when you consider the mind-boggling variety of life beneath the ocean, it’s still a guise.
Science is now in agreement with the ancient rishis of India concurring that all things are born from the same Source, and only appear different because of their different rate of vibration. We study and are aware of the oldest and latest discoveries in science, as well as our own personal observations in nature. The play with gravity, the perennial hide-and-seek, thrust and parry, the tension jack-in-the-box release, the karmic boomerang of cause and effect, salmons returning upstream to give up their lives and regenerate new life. These are movements and contemplations on how life works.
Q: How instrumental were those you studied with and danced with, in the development of your strengths during your time in New York City before you arrived in San Francisco?
A: Although I had the privilege of studying with the large name institutions and extraordinary teachers, what catapulted my learning was sharing the room with the high level of artists that were drawn to those centers, more than the centers or teachers themselves. Observing each individual carving out their unique voice and particular strengths, plus the unified striving and focused energy in the room was an instructor. It was that gathering of artists from around the globe who were at the highest levels of the discipline who, for me, were the real transforming presence. “Environment is stronger than will power”.
Q:In LINES each dancer is encouraged “to push past individual comfort zones to find new ways of moving fluidly from the traditional geometric designs associated with classical ballet, into varied non-Western movement disciplines.” Is this an entirely new way of thinking of ballet?
A: One of the fascinations about movement exploration is this insatiable attitude about discovering endless ways that the body can be manipulated. The geometric designs generally employed through classical ballet are not western. They are universal forms and archetypes that are part of the science, art, folklore, astronomy of all large civilizations and world cultures. They are part of the vast intelligence placed in form that you find globally. The mathematical precision and symbol that you find in pyramids, and at the Cathedral of Chartres, are the same mathematics and symbol that you find in the human body. Straight line and circle encompass all forms.
What is specifically different at LINES is that the meanings of those symbols, and their origins in nature are taught. The new way of thinking about ballet is approached in several aspects. We think of the body as a field of energy to be manipulated, and the artist as chiseler, sculptor, engineer and architect. The task is to live through transitions and to inhabit moving shapes as living vibratory ideas. The process is akin to condensation and evaporation. The solid form melts like ice in varying degrees, moves into liquid, is evaporated or disintegrated and then congeals back to hard form. This is a process that is musical and based in phrases.
Every step or movement is a pyramid or wave, where there is a genesis, peak, and dissolution – and then a re-birth or new idea. Men and women often share roles. There is an emphasis on complex rhythms, and the dancer is thought of as a poet. When the making and doing that we humans participate in is brought to the highest levels, regardless of the activity, it becomes a kind of poetry. The dancers aim for a living experience. They are dancing treatises, theorems, paintings, songs and stories. As we understand more about what humanity is, and what bodies are – dancing changes.
Q: You also have a most unique collaboration with composers, musicians, and visual artists – including commissioning music from the table master Zakir Hussain for Scheherazade, and Sephardic music with Judeo-Spanish songs by Jorge Savall. How has this kind of music fueled your work? And are you hoping that we, the audience, open ourselves to a new way of experiencing what’s possible?
A: We have been fortunate to commission and work with some of the greatest musicians on the planet. Even those who have passed away and their music continues to live. For this I am deeply grateful. Music is another fascination with dance makers because music and dance are the same. Dancers are musicians and great musicians are dancers. You have to move something to make sound, and when a dancer is moving they are making their own music with the audible music. Vibration is sound and movement. They are inextricably linked.
If you have the choices of masterful composers from around the globe, why would you limit your choice to one genre? I adore the musical masters of all traditions and all cultures. A lament is a lament regardless of its country or culture of origin. The tuning fork vibrating with the harmony of truth is where I want to live and work. Incredible expressions of the heart and mind through music are magnetic and can change our being.
Q: Another of your collaborative projects was Long River, High Sky exploring the fusion of elements of classical ballet and the movement traditions of Shaolin monks. What led you in that direction and what kinds of discoveries did you make?
A: Initially the monks refused to touch the women in the company. It was forbidden in their discipline. After rehearsing for a while they realized that it was solely about the communication of ideas and it became okay. What was also fascinating was their ability to jump right into the dance forms. They saw them not as scary unfamiliar propositions, but as other ways of shape making. They were quick and wholly involved. When they made mistakes they didn’t go through ego disappointment, they laughed at themselves and then continued to do the work. It was also a breakthrough into a wider palate for the members of the company to build their warrior power.
Q: You definitely encourage your dancers to understand their history, to learn about art, philosophy, religion… How does this ultimately play a role in the way in which they dance?
A: The dancer dances their consciousness. You dance who you are, there is no escaping that. Your dancing is your understanding. When the understanding is vast, or expanded there is greater depth in the dancing. It is wisdom that we want to behold. The more wisdom, the more light. The more light, the more perception and clarity for the viewer.
Q: So many questions we ultimately may never have answers to – yet we must go forward. What gives you your greatest joy in creating new work?
A: We aren’t here just to be born and die. We must find a deep purpose to our lives and bring effort towards expansion. To watch the people you work with transform themselves into masters is a joy to witness. Everything that exists is trying to expand itself, to enlarge into some form of non-stop existence. Everything is reaching for omnipresence, gems, trees, mountains, shooting stars, volcanos, and human beings.
When you look back on your life, you want to have a view that shows that you have come a long way, that you went far and discovered much, and are changed. Moving forward into new work, is really working on yourself. It is about self-expansion, and when that happens there is a joyous satisfaction.