Choreographer Alonzo King has always been fascinated by the junctures of East and West, of classicism and romanticism and of masculine and feminine. “Rasa,” the marquee work his LINES Ballet company performed at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts on Friday, distills his aesthetic into 40 minutes of gasp-for-breath movement, music and visual effects. The score (mostly Indian, with side trips into other world music genres) is by Zakir Hussain, and the sets feature a textured bronze backdrop illuminated in golds and reds like a desert canyon. Standing before it, the dancers burn their silhouettes into the backs of retinas. They pause, then spin like controlled dervishes and beat their feet to fast tabla rhythms.
As a creation of any other choreographer, “Rasa” would come off like an Oriental pastiche. Instead, it’s a Silk Road wonder.
“Rasa” works, in part, because King, who is African American, helms one of the most ethnically diverse ballet companies in the country. Of the 11 dancers on the roster to perform at Mason, only four appeared to be Caucasian; the others were a range of skin tones. Regrettably, two dancers recently were injured. King’s choreography has that reputation — beautiful but brutal.
The program opened with “Concerto for Two Violins,” set to the Bach classic that is well-suited for the short solos that pepper many of King’s works. During the first and third movements, the dancers took turns offering petit allegro sequences well-synced with one solo violin or other. When the (recorded) orchestra played in unison, the ensemble usually revolved as one.
Although “Rasa” was created in 2007, the choreography seemed tailored to the movers King has on hand now. He hires tall women, and Courtney Henry’s whip-quick overhead battement kicks brought her feet nearly 7 feet in the air. The tallest guy, Robb Beresford, handled most of the heavy partnering, yet his most impressive solo moves were chaînés, turns typically aced by ballerinas. Company veteran Michael Montgomery is small and wiry, and he compacts himself even more when he dances, staying balanced while slightly curled, and looks all the more in control because of it. The final solo belonged to a dancer who goes by the one-name moniker Babatunji. Every move was amplified by gestures that should have thrown him off balance — like Brian Boitano’s iconic hand-over-head triple lutz but harder. Babatunji began turns with a hand aloft, then wove his arm down his body with each revolution and ending with a wrist flourish and a heavy flash of sweat.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.