2018 marked Ilaria Guerra’s first home season with LINES Ballet and the premiere of SUTRA, a collaboration between Alonzo King and Grammy-awarded tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. Four years have passed, and along with them multiple international tours, a global pandemic, and hours of rehearsal with Alonzo workshopping movement to make it her own. Now, Ilaria and the company are revisiting excerpts from SUTRA and a number of other works created with Zakir in preparation for our 40th Anniversary Fall Season. With only weeks before she takes the stage, Ilaria reflects on how she has grown, the impact of Zakir’s music, and the wonder of the work.
Want to see Ilaria perform? Come witness her in a stunning collection of excerpts selected from 25 years of collaboration between Alonzo King and Zakir Hussain, October 12-16 at YBCA: tickets.
Interview by Erin McKay
Was there a rehearsal day with Zakir for SUTRA that stands out to you?
I remember the first time Zakir and Sabir Khan came into the studio to rehearse with us live. The way their music filled the room was magical. There was an energy in the air that fueled us as dancers and excited our movement. We started with this one very fast and rhythmic section that consisted of multiple solos and short duets with dancers moving in and out of the space. Zakir’s rhythms electrified us, propelling the section forward.
We rehearsed to a track during the creation process but having Zakir there live, playing the familiar beats but also improvising to what he saw us do, was so special; it elevated us. We could play with our movements because we were sharing a conversation together, a call and response, a listening and speaking. Nothing can compare to live music.
What feelings and thoughts do you remember from that process leading up to your first home season premiere with LINES Ballet in 2018?
For me, this was a really big deal. I joined the company in January of 2018 and had performed on tour, but this was my first home season in SF. This had been my dream for the past 10 years, and it was finally coming true. So there were a lot of nervous emotions, but overall I was ecstatic. I was scared but so overjoyed that I was finally going to be able to dance with LINES Ballet at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, accompanied by Zakir Hussain no less. It was an extraordinary experience and one that I will cherish forever.
On top of that, SUTRA was my first new creation with Alonzo. The movement was created on me, and I was able to make it my own through Alonzo’s guidance. He really pushed me to make choices and show who I was through my dancing.
How did Zakir’s music impact you and your movement?
Zakir’s music has so much texture and nuance, both in his fast rhythmic sections and his slower melodies. His music is an inspiration and a guide to how my movement can match and counteract it. Those layers of beats, rhythms, and variations in speed create infinite possibilities of interpretation for my movement to respond to. It is always a fun challenge to dance to his works. Alonzo pointed out the other day that every time we run the Rasa finale section, we all get smiles on our faces and a pep in our steps.
Zakir’s music truly brings me joy! He is such a warm and welcoming person. I am excited to share the stage with him again. Feeling that live energy coming from him and his instruments will be what fuels and fills us this season.
What was your most memorable moment on stage performing SUTRA?
My favorite part of SUTRA is the very last section. We have just danced a frighteningly fast and intricate finale, where the music swells and the audience is continually surprised with new feats and formations. Then, the music quiets down and only the women are left standing. They take their hair down, exhausted and sweaty, and dance a final offering, expressing who they are and the journey they have just gone through. It is a very moving section where the audience really gets to see those themes of universal humanity that Alonzo so often showcases in his work. I remember getting to those last 5 minutes of the piece, and even though I was completely drained, I was so transfixed dancing in that sacred circle of women that I didn’t want the music, and the magic of the moment, to end.
How have you changed from the first collaboration with Zakir to now?
I think we have all changed in these last four and a half years. We have gone through a pandemic and have come out on the other side. I have gotten the opportunity to tour all over the world, sharing my art with thousands of people. My artistry and my voice have matured, and those feelings of nervousness and fearfulness that I experienced in my first season on stage have been replaced by exploration and wonder for my work. I think I have grown to know myself better on one hand. On the other hand though, I have developed an openness to not knowing and letting movement and music take me to new places with my dancing.
What does it mean to you to be a part of a company that has a 40 year legacy? Does the company’s history impact the way that you approach the work?
I feel a deep connection to this company and an immense sense of pride in this organization. The wisdom and beauty that came before me is ever present in the dancers that still teach and propel its mission forward. I was lucky enough to be taught by the founding dancers of the company in the LINES Ballet BFA Program at Dominican University of California and the LINES Summer Program. They helped shape me into the dancer I am today. Having this living legacy in the building, and still around us, is powerful because it reminds us of where we came from and how it all started.
Looking in the mirror, I see where we are now. A new group of dancers is creating beauty and truth in the studio with Alonzo, bringing in their unique life perspectives to the work. With that, we carry the influence and the teachings of the dancers that preceded us, always honoring their legacy and trying to make them proud of all that we have helped to accomplish together.
Celebration of Alonzo King & Zakir Hussain
5 SHOWS | OCTOBER 12–16, 2022
Alonzo King LINES Ballet is thrilled to continue its 40th Anniversary with a Fall Season featuring tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. His collaborations with choreographer Alonzo King renew classical forms of music and dance, holding respect for the old and ushering in the new. Secure your seat to see highlights of 25 years of collaboration between these two visionaries.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | Dancer: Ilaria Guerra | © RJ Muna; Dancer: Joshua Francique | © RJ Muna