King of Collaboration

Joanne Furio | October 17, 2012 | Story Galleries and Performance

He’s probably the Bay Area’s most important international choreographer you’ve never heard of. And yet Alonzo King and his LINES Ballet have worked with Bakaa musicians from Central Africa, the Shaolin monks of China, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart—even the actor Danny Glover—as well as the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and the Royal Swedish Ballet. This fall, the troupe opens its 30th anniversary season with a new, all–San Francisco collaboration with visual artist Jim Campbell and S.F. Opera mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani; cue the local acclaim at last (we hope).

This will be King’s second project with Campbell in the last year (the first, the artist’s “Exploded Views” video installation, is at SFMOMA through October 23). Next up for LINES: new works with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and the L.A.-based WET Design, known for its 90-acre fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. “Everything is collaboration,” says the Georgia-born King, a child of the civil rights era whose work has been described as “implicitly political.” “No one gets anywhere by themselves.”

SF: Why do you feel so compelled to collaborate with other artists?

AK: Frankly, I think everything is a collaboration. Even getting out of the bed in the morning is a collaboration with your willpower and that reluctant body. When you’re working with dancers, they are not Legos. They are human beings. I don’t want to use them like pieces. I’m collaborating with their hearts and their minds.

I often say to a dancer, ‘Don’t dance by yourself.’ Meaning: you’re never alone. If you’re in the forest, there are trees, there is nature, there is air. We are surrounded by participants, so when people think they’re not collaborating, they’re missing the point.

SF: What makes this year’s collaboration with Jim Campbell so special?

AK: You find out with people you collaborate with that it’s never an accident that you’re brought into each other’s orbit. You discover there’s a like-mindedness; even though it appears that you’re doing drastically different things, you’re not. You just happen to be using different materials. Jim said to me, ‘When I work with these lights, I want to do what’s impossible. I‘d like the bulbs to disappear and you’ll only see light.’ I feel the same way about the dancers. I don’t want to see bodies; I want to see the luminous internal force that animates those bodies. And what does that mean? I just want to see light.

What has been your most challenging collaboration?

AK: The collaboration with myself. The struggle over the little self that complains and whines and the larger self that is ready to go into battle and do what must be done.

SF: Name some dream collaborations.

AK: I’ve already had so many. It’s humbling. I would have loved to have done something with Leontyne Price. And with Howard Zinn, the civil rights advocate who wrote A People’s History of the United States. He was a friend of my father’s. We got together in Boston once and talked for hours. The next week, he died.

SF: Does collaboration have a larger, more political point? To erase the idea of us vs. them? What has it taught you?

AK: One thing about working with the Baaka people—they were hunters and gatherers, before all the civil wars in the Congo. They needed each other. This one built the nets, this one saved the food, this one could climb the tree for the honey—it was a community that needed each other. This kind of collaboration is our nature. It’s what we’re being led to in the world.

SF: As good as you are, and as acclaimed as you are in Europe, you’re not as well-known here as you should be.

AK: People always say that. It kind of makes me feel like, is that bad? My goal was not to be famous. My goal was to do really beautiful work, and to improve on that work until I leave the planet, and to share that work with as many audiences as possible. And we’re doing that.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Oct. 19-28

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