A Conversation With Choreographer Alonzo King On His Time At The Detroit Opera House

For those of us that wasn't able to experience his newest work: DEEP RIVER - a powerful piece set to a score by jazz pianist & composer, Jason Moran, and sung by Grammy Award-winning vocalist Lisa Fischer - at the Detroit Opera House; BLAC sat in on a conversation with King moderated by Neil Barclay on Facebook Live.

Alonzo King Founder and Artistic Director
Alonzo King Founder and Artistic Director

He comes from a distinguished line of Albany, Georgia, civil rights activists. His father was a close personal friend of Malcolm X. Guided by the values he was brought up with, Alonzo King found his own form of expression, founding his own company which would go on to win accolades around the world.

Alonzo King has been called a visionary choreographer, who is altering the way we look at ballet. Named as a choreographer with “astonishing originality” by The New York Times, King has works in the repertories of the world’s leading ballet and modern companies and has collaborated with distinguished visual artists, musicians, and composers across the globe.

He is a former San Francisco commissioner, and a writer and lecturer on humanity and art. He holds an honorary Doctorate from Dominican University, California Institute of the Arts, and The Juilliard School.

For those of us that wasn’t able to experience his newest work: DEEP RIVER – a powerful piece set to a score by jazz pianist & composer, Jason Moran, and sung by Grammy Award-winning vocalist Lisa Fischer – at the Detroit Opera House; BLAC sat in on a conversation with King moderated by Neil Barclay on Facebook Live.

Here’s a snippet of the transcription.

Neil Barclay: I’ve seen so much work of yours onto over the years and it is always been sort of inspiring and just lovely to watch and I congratulate you for that. I was wondering though, people talk about the originality of your Choreographic voice. Everything that you do has a certain kind of beautiful powers and spirituality of it to it. Where do you think that comes from in your own life and experience?
Alonzo King: … I think that sometimes we can forget that beauty is actually speaking to the intellect. That’s where it’s aiming. We have color, we have depth, we have contrast but these ideas are pointing to the intellect. So it’s a form of communication and there’s also a subliminal invisible arrow which is meant to penetrate the heart.
Neil Barclay: Let’s go back to the work that you will and we’ll come back to the subject over and over again, I’m sure, but you’ve created a piece for your engagement that’ll be coming here to Ann Arbor into the Detroit area. Key talk, first of all, a little bit about how the collaborators that you’re working with, the collaborations that you’ve done over time, I’ve seen so many of them. They always seem to take you and the dancers in the group to get another place. That is just astonishing to me. Can you talk about the collaborators you’re working with on the piece that you’re going to be showing there and how that credit came about?
Alonzo King: Well, Jason (Moran) and I have worked together for years, forever. And I have to tell you, when Jason’s wife brought him to a performance of Lines in New York during the coldest winter for his birthday. And so I have to thank his wife for that. And when we I said, let’s do a work. And when we first started, I described some things. Jason sent me the most beautiful music, and often with composers as a tug. Yeah, right. Conversation Requisite hurry up.
Neil Barclay: That seems you’ve incorporated in your own work right. The notion of finding dancers who can live within the music and articulate the movement in a way that gives it a special kind of feel and vibration, I want to say almost in the room. Right?
Alonzo King: Yeah. I think that with training, so often it begins with imitation and too often it remains within. So there’s a point where you have to be forced to jump off the mountain. What is your voice? What is your point of view? What do these symbols mean to you? And back to the artist statement, what are you saying? Because so many people get trapped in a fundamental religious right and wrong that they can’t move it’s like when I was a kid, I remember two girls told me if you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back. And I thought, oh my God. And so I was walking real carefully on sidewalks and I thought there’s flats everywhere, how do I do this? And I think that a lot of dancers approach it in that same way so they imprisoned themselves and the point is to fly.
Image by Alonzo King of DEEP RIVER
Neil Barclay: I’ve seen so many of your dancers over the years and each one is astonishing or more astonishing than the next, it seems sometimes. How do you find though? What is it that when you’re auditioning a dancer, they obviously have to have amazing technique because of the work that you’re doing but beyond that, what is it that you look for or you seem to see in another artist that wants you to invite them into your company and into the work that you’re doing?
Alonzo King: I think that willingness is one thing, another is I’m drawn to people who are thinking what they can contribute to this art form. They see it in a different way and they see their contribution as unique. I’m interested in people who have queried who am I? And are interested in pulling those layers off. Am I? Race identity, gender. Who am I? Family origin, religion, training a clan that’s used to doing things a certain way that we consider the right way. When people begin to break down those walls with that query, they’re different because they’re looking for who they really are and when that search begins, the body disappears. All the ways that society defines you disappear and you get closer to your true self consciousness because that’s what we’re working with consciousness. What is music? It’s thought made visible. What is dance? It’s thought. I’m sorry. Music thought. Music is thought and made visible and audible and danced the same thing. These are states of consciousness. And so back to your direct question. When a dancer has decided, I’m going to be honest, I’m not going to entertain you, I’m going to be honest. And like a musician, I’m trying to find that note.

Neil Barclay: Alonzo, are there other aspects of your identity that I think inform the work that you do that make it special to us, who see and enjoy that work that you can surface for us?

Alonzo King: I think that in all of the work there’s the presence of struggle and the presence of how to deal with struggle and the victories and failures from dealing with it and how that’s informative. My father introduced me to yoga when I was about eleven. And so I’ve had a practice for many years, and not just the Asanas, but the meditative contemplative part. And so when people say the word dance, I think movement and sound, and that is all creation. It’s vibration and sound. Everything. Planets, moons, sun, stars, the way people live their lives, plants, ocean, this whole cosmos is moving. It is the principal expression of light. The heart is beating, the lungs are expanding and closing. The in and out breath, the running of the blood through all your veins. The digestive system, it is a brilliant intelligence. We don’t say to the food, okay, stomach, work on this food now, or, okay, the machine works and it’s brilliant.

Facebook Comments