Sunday, March 31, 2013

Gerald Clayton's Millennial Bop Rings in (Finally?) Spring

by Susan Kepecs
This Saturday, April 6, rising young mainstream jazz pianist Gerald Clayton comes to town –the Town Center at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, to be precise – under the auspices of the Wisconsin Union Theater.  I haven’t yet heard Clayton live, and recordings are no substitute for live jazz.  But leave it to lazy writers to jump on a facile description of an artist and copy it all over the Internet. The New York Times has been consistent, calling Clayton “Oscar Peterson-like” since he emerged as a runner-up in the Thelonious Monk piano competition in 2006, at the age of 22.  A Google search this morning for “Gerald Clayton, Oscar Peterson” turned up 205,000 hits.
Really?  I listen to Clayton’s three albums and I think OK, sometimes there’s a blues progression in the mix, or a touch of Peterson-style swing.  But Clayton really doesn’t sound much like the late Canadian pianist, whose big, warm, boogie-woogie swing was somethin’ else entirely from the cool, calm, cerebral, post-boppish style Clayton puts out.  Still, there’s a link.  Clayton’s the son of LA bassist / composer / educator John Clayton, whose own mentor was the late Ray Brown, Peterson’s bass player for many years.  
The younger Clayton’s mentors run deep.  Besides growing up in the jazz world he studied with master jazz pianist Kenny Barron and spent a couple years on the road with eclectic hard bop trumpeter Roy Hargrove. 
Today Clayton’s got fingers in multiple pies.  He  works with his dad and uncle in the Clayton Brothers band, which has tons of twentieth-century swing.  But Gerald’s a full-fledged denizen of the twenty-teens, plying the keys with the NEXT Collective, a jazz / hip hop outfit put together to showcase Concord’s millennial generation young lions. 
As a leader, Clayton sounds like – well, himself.  There’s a sophisticated, old-school – though open-ended – feel to his tunes.  A few old-school standards dot his first two albums (Two-Shade, from 2010, and Bond, 2011), though all the tracks on his third, the just-released Life Forum, are Clayton’s, either alone or co-written with his collaborators.  And like most versatile players, Clayton has a penchant for working in various formats.  On Life Forum it’s a nonet, featuring his regular trio plus, among others, Gretchen Parlato on vocals and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet.  It’s got some spoken word laid over laid-back tracks, occasional blues lines mixed into his mostly modal approach, a sparky samba-fusion tune, and hints of the feathery-light touch epitomized on Miles Davis’ 1969 cool jazz fusion album In a Silent Way. 
But Clayton appears here with his long-standing trio, which includes the similarly up-and-coming Milwaukee native Joe Sanders on bass and Justin Brown on drums. The intimate, stripped-down sound’s a good way to get to know these young blue bloods of bop. 

Last week I had a chance to pop a few questions Clayton’s way.

CulturalOyster: You were born with a jazz silver spoon in your mouth, and you’ve risen very fast in the jazz world.  What kind of an edge did your background give you?

Clayton: It was really a blessing.  I was fortunate to have grown up seeing it so closely – mainly the lifestyle behind the music.  Playing’s not a job, but a labor of love.  Jazz is one big family.  The musicians I used to see when I was growing up were so positive – there was always lots of love and hugs and everybody was always so happy to see each other.  I associated that with the music. 

But the rest of it is like everything else, there’s no real shortcut.  You have to put in your time listening, transcribing, learning the language.  It was helpful to have great answers and points of reference at home – whenever I needed to understand something about the music my dad was there to help me figure it out.  I guess that was an edge, that there was always information at home.  But it really does come down to personal motivation to learn the music and to speak the language that we speak. 

CulturalOyster: You don’t sound like Oscar Peterson to me.  Lets get past the mainstream media memes – how would you describe your style?

Clayton: I appreciate that you decided to look past the words that follow me around.  The only thing that rings true is that Oscar was my first piano love.  I really have tried to soak in as much music as possible.  Our generation is about open-mindedness and allowing the music to go where it needs to go and to not have preconceived ideas about what it should and shouldn’t feel like.  I draw on all my influences, but what I’m searching for is honesty and integrity in my music. 

CulturalOyster: It’s interesting that a lot of millennial generation players are injecting hip-hop into the bop idiom.  Despite the spoken word approach on the title track of Life Forum, I really don’t hear much hip hop in your mix.  Why is that?

Clayton: I love hip hop.  I definitely grew up in a generation where it was a very relevant part of black music expression. I’m not trying to make my music sound like hip hop, but I’m not steering away from it either.  It’s really a big gumbo.  Justin, my drummer, came from the church, and he’s had a lot more experience playing straight up hip hop than I have.  It might be subtle, but he brings that flavor, and all of us love good hip hop.

CulturalOyster: Tell me more about your sidemen.

Clayton: They’re amazing.  I met them in high school.  We were all part of the high school band [the Grammy High School Big Band, which brings together students from across the country] – that’s where we met.  I met a lot of young guys there.  We kept in touch in college and then we all ended up in New York around the same time, five or six years ago.  The three of us started playing together and we all live in the same apartment building, so we’ve had a chance to play together a lot and explore.  They know how to make the music feel good.  Justin’s a sponge – everything he hears he soaks up and internalizes.  And Joe has these enormous ears, he hears so much and his harmonic concept is so far-reaching compared to a lot of bass players. We have a lot of respect for one another and we’re all tuned in to what each other contributes to the music. 

CulturalOyster:  When you come to Madison, are you bringing some trio arrangements of the Life Forum tunes?

Clayton: We’ll do some of the material from that.  But when we’re playing shows we’re not thinking about the album.  It’s about creating a set that flows the right way.  We’ll draw on our repertory that’s three albums deep now, plus what we haven’t recorded.  I promise to put it all together in way that’s captivating for the audience. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dance Review: Alonzo King's LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Bring a Mixed Bag to Overture's Stage

LINES dancer Keelan Whitmore in "Azimuth".  
Amber Bliss photo
by Susan Kepecs
Last Wednesday (March 20) in Overture Hall, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago celebrated their temporary merger.  The unusual combined program revealed a formidable gulf between the two decidedly different dance companies, and an elegantly constructed bridge across it.
On the bill were one substantial work by each troupe plus by a piece King choreographed for both together, fashioned from a difficult long-distance process that involved two brief in-the-flesh meetings and lots of communications via YouTube and email.  First up was LINES’ 40-minute “Rasa” (2007), which rose miles above the rest of the program.  “Rasa,” like all of King’s visionary ballets, is a work straight from the heart, built on a rich, complex score by tabla master Zakir Hussein, whose world beat / classical approach mixed percussion instruments, droning sitar, chants, and the syllabic rhythms that lie behind all tabla playing.  Other choreographers, including current Ailey artistic director Robert Battle and Madison’s own Li Chiao Ping have used Sheila Chandra’s “Speaking in Tongues” Indiapop takes on vocalized tabla, which drive movement in similarly percussive ways.  And other dance companies have brought Indian temple art to life onstage.  Probably the best of these is the soulful Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, an India-based folkloric collective dediated to the spirit, philosophy and theory of classical Indian dance arranged for contemporary theater.
But King goes where no choreographer has gone before.  He turns the Hindu deities – the many-limbed Krishnas and Shivas and Durgas, flexing their feet and wrists – into pure abstractions, telling untold but universal myths. Their story specifics and cultural accoutrements – the elephant trunks, beads and polychrome paint – are stripped away.  Under shifting conditions of golden light, King’s remarkable dancers, in brief, neutral toned dancewear, resonate with Hussein’s score.  Their fluidity breathes vibrant life into the angular poses and flexed appendages of temple art. Elasticity originates deep in the dancers’ cores, legs spidering into space, pairs of arms whipping through light creating the optical illusion of many.  
None of this movement would be imaginable without exquisite ballet training, and yes, the western classical vocabulary is there too, in all its glory – luxurious attitude turns, pique turns in sixth, outrageously extended penché arabesques, pas de chats and brisés, entrechat six, chaine turns, flying second position split leaps, more.  
The deities’ allegories – their struggles and unities – emerge onstage. Within shifting groups pairs of dancers merge, male and female aspects of a single god.  In the fifth movement the very powerful Keelan Whitmore, conjuring Agni, lord of sacrifice and fire, leaps and spins like raging flames, his many arms stretching toward infinity. 
It would be wrong to call “Rasa” performance.  It’s a piece of pure dance, entirely lacking artifice. It seemed akin to tribal ritual, or the way you might dance yourself, at home alone with the volume turned up.  You might spot it in a nightclub where a pair of extraordinary salseros, loose and totally unselfconscious, are dancing right on clave.  The immense difference between almost all of us and King’s company, of course, is natural balletic ability, flawless technique, and awe-inspiring stamina. 
On the heels of “Rasa,” Hubbard Street resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Little Mortal Jump” (2012) fell flat.  If “Rasa” was a universal abstraction of Hindu theology filtered through the language of western classical dance, “Little Mortal Jump” was a Euro-American abstraction of dance numbers in a generic broadway show.  The shift in focus was anticlimatic, the drop in energy precipitous. 
Still, within those parameters, Cerrudo’s piece had its charms.  Hubbard Street dancers are very proficient at the quirky contemprary vocabulary they’re known for.  The piece, full of magic tricks with giant moveable black cubes, wove a series of pas de deux through sections in which larger groups prevailed. The first pas de deux was flirtatious; later, a pair of dancers in heavily velcroed suits stuck themselves to the cubes, then stripped away the suits to return to the floor.  In the final pas de deux the previously cool light went golden.  The man (the names of the soloists in each movement weren’t listed in the program) lifted the woman high overhead, upside down; under the bright light this seemed deftly surreal.  The two dancers ran, circling each other, under bright spots; then, like alien abductees, they disappeared into a golden passageway that opened up amidst the cubes, which, being spun through space by other dancers, leant a satisfyingly hallucinatory feel to the end of this dance. 
In “Azimuth,” the raison d’etre for the entire evening, King worked miracles, pulling all the stops out of Hubbard Street’s dancers and merging them with LINES.  “Azimuth” looked like a LINES work, albeit one with slightly tamer technique – though the sheer number of bodies onstage (28 rather than 12) was arresting enough to compensate.  
“Azimuth” is a big, meditative work rich with unison flow, though LINES’ dancers generally stood out.  The men of the two companies blended better than the women; four Hubbard Street men were especially stunning in a very active section with LINES’ Keelan Whitmore and Ricardo Zayas. 
There were a few rough edges – not surprising in a work mostly made long-distance. Smart, minimal dancewear showed off the remarkable mix of bodies, and the lighting was lush. But the score – an odd jumble of original music by Bay Area composer Ben Judovalkis, Russian liturgical songs, spirituals, and other sounds – sometimes got in the way.  And – unlike the crystal clear concepts in “Rasa” – King’s abstraction of azimuth, a geometric angle between an observer, a point of interest, and true north – didn’t pop out till the end.  In King’s personal book of cosmic geometry, azimuth is the distance between where a person stands, where his or her attention is fixed, and how that separation is obliterated.  The achievement of pure dance – the merging of choreography and spirit that’s a hallmark of King’s works, including this one – is a manifestation of azimuth, though a subtle one.
 What nailed the notion was the final pas de deux between LINES’ Meredith Webster and David Harvey.  In it were echoes of “Rasa”’s couplings, neatly bookending the program.  Webster and Harvey pushed and pulled each other, then obliterated the separation; when she sat on his shoulders they became – they didn’t impersonate, they became – an eight-limbed being.  Other bodies lay upstage in the dark, moving shapes barely seen.  Against this mysterious backdrop Webster and Harvey separated physically, but their energies went on flowing together – the two, beyond shadow of doubt, were one.
That’s azimuth, as King defines it, to a T. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dance Review: Dracula!

                                                                                            © SKepecs 2013
by Susan Kepecs
Madison Ballet artistic director W. Earle Smith took a big, bold risk with his all-new steampunk rock n’ roll production of Dracula. It paid off, in spades.  Not that the ballet I saw Friday night (Mar. 8) in Overture’s Capitol Theater was perfect. There were minor glitches, a few slips and wobbles, and in several spots the choreography still needed work. But for a spanking-new show straight out of the box, Dracula was pretty damn good. 
  Successful story ballets tell the tale without sacrificing dance on the altar of drama. If you were unfamiliar with Bram Stoker’s 1897 Victorican Gothic horror story, on which Smith’s ballet was based, and if you overlooked the program notes, you might have been a little lost.  But Smith did his research. The periodization was done to a turn. The keys to the plot were all in plain sight.  And dance prevailed – Dracula’s a ballet, not a play.
  The dancing itself didn't carry all the weight.  It was good, and occasionally excellent. Smith’s choreography was articulate and bright, with a huge kinesthetic feel and an inventive vocabulary that’s part contemporary, part neoclassical, part rock n’ roll, part bat. But it was the total package that told the tale – the flow of movement partnered with smart production design and a sparkling score. 
   Jen Trieloff’s set, constructed from aluminum trusses, scaffolding and platforms adorned with with astrolabes and gears, simultaneously evoked rock concerts and the Industrial Revolution, during which the story is set. Overexposed, sepia-toned projections in keeping with the late nineteenth century birth of moving pictures suggested the scene changes; steam engines and horse-drawn carriages marked Jonathan Harker’s trip to Transylvaina; ships’ portholes and billowing waves accompanied Dracula’s voyage to England; bat shadows flickered across a full moon that hovered appropriately above the vampire bite scenes.  Karen Brown-Larimore’s savvy steampunk costuming – Django Unchained meets Moulin Rouge burlesque – similarly cinched Victorian past to rock n’ roll present.
Composer / keyboardist Michael Massey’s robust score, played by his seven-man band on a platform high above the stage, is ballet music as surely as Tchiakovsky’s Nutcracker – but hey, it’s rock n’ roll.  The themes that accompanied the principal characters – synth-heavy and rhythmic for Dracula, melodic and violin-driven for the virtuous and pure Mina Murray – played a part in driving the plot.
       Smith didn’t shy away from the psychosexual implications of Stoker’s novel, written in light of Sigmund Freud’s then-emerging body of work on hysteria and repression. Vampires are notoriously bisexual, and Smith shows Dracula caressing Harker seductively; Lucy, turned into a vampire, bestows a lascivious kiss on Mina’s lips.  In Stoker’s story the lunatic Renfield, a nod to Freud’s early work on schizophrenia, eats small critters to absorb their powers.  Smith’s Renfield, the very proficient James Stevko, who’s got a flair for comedy (he was Quince the carpenter in the company’s 2011 Midsummer Night’s Dream), does a loony little crotch-grabbing, insect-eating dance, cut to perfection with clean, pure ballet.
  Most of the choreoraphy wove styles that way. In the castle scene at the start of the ballet, Jonathan Harker (Brian Roethslisberger), seen through a scrim, reacts to imprisonment with fright and flight.  His powerful solo – the best I’ve ever seen from him – stirred prancing, flamenco-like steps into a sweeping, Smith-style grand allegro.  Roethslisberger’s partnering in his two pas de deux with fiancée Mina Murray (the lithe and dreamy Jennifer Tierney) was pale by comparison.
Dracula (the imposing Matthew Linzer) often moved in loose, lateral steps – the opposite of the diagonal dynamic we earthly humans employ.  But this quirky vampirishness was mixed with sailing grand allegro steps, because, you know, it’s ballet.
  The dancing in the big corps numbers – Dracula’s Gypsies, in Act I, and his Minions, at the end of Act II – was hard-driving and tight. The Brides of Dracula (Yu Suzuki, Shannon Quirk, Rachelle Butler) were wonderful, seducing Harker with come-hither neoclassical dance adorned with batlike upper-body contractions, arms like wings waving overhead. Slinking into elastic, long-legged arabesques and attitude turns they fluttered their soft white nightgowns and showed their fangs – a demented fairy pas de trois, or three crazed Isadora Duncans on pointe.
Tierney was aptly cast as the innocent Mina. Her variation in the scene at Lucy Westernra’s house was lovely and soft; her two pas de deux with Roethslisberger were playful and sweet. But the lifts during her pas with Dracula were choreographically awkward. More than once Linzer tossed her onto his back into mildly compromising positions that, plainly put, showed more than enough garter.
  Madison Ballet powerhouse Marguerite Luksik, who’s actually cast against type in her annual Nutcracker Sugarplum fairy role, was electrifying as the wanton hellcat Lucy.  She rocked out in a wild danse en pointe, rolling her shoulders and circling her forearms over a series of sixth position piques, flirtatious little knock-kneed jumps and jazzy drag steps.  Her liquid nightmare variation, done under a full moon and set to mournful music, showcased sleek neoclassical pointework shaded with subtle hip and shoulder rolls.
  Luksik’s vampire dance, in the depths of Lucy’s tomb, was the pinnacle of this production.  The music went rhythmic, with a hint of clave.  Blood red-lit columns descended from above while light patterns on the floor played back and forth – a spooky hallucination.  The vampire slayer, Dr. Van Helsing (Jacob Ashley) and his posse – Mina and Harker, plus Lucy’s three suitors (Bjorn Bolinder, Anthony Femath and Phillip Ollenburg) – burst into the scene. Luksik arched up off her cold morgue slab, hissing, and hovered, bat-like, among the men, who lifted and dipped her and literally tossed her through the air from one to the next. Death defying!  The audience gasped. Van Helsing chopped off her head at the end of this pas de sept. 
  What followed – the killing of Dracula – was, as in the novel, anticlimatic.  The battle scene in which Van Helsing and his allies go after the big vampire was amply dynamic, especially the exchange between Ashley and Linzer involving a lift / cabriole / toss sequence.  And Linzer got in a short coupe jeté / attitude turn combination before Ashley drove the stake through his heart.  But the final emphasis on blood licking and agonized cape flinging was disapointing.  We didn’t quite see enough of Dracula in this ballet, which left me hungry for more.  Some spectacularly furious bravura variation before he staggered into his final fall would have satisfied the craving.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Double Dance Performance Power Comes to Overture Hall

LINES Ballet dancer Meredith Webster, center, with Hubbard Street Dance
Chicago and Alonzo King LINES Ballet in Azimuth. Amber Bliss photo.
by Susan Kepecs
Established, highly successful dance companies don’t combine as a matter of course. I can’t rememver ever seeing two troupes merge in a single work.  But on March 20, in Overture Hall, two very different organizations – the San Francisco-based Alonzo King LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago – perform separately and then come together in a brand-new work choreographed by King. 
   The sheer logistics of this temporary merging seem almost impossible. Both companies are multicultural and beautifully trained, but the similarities end there.  Hubbard Street, which performs in Madison almost annually, is a contemporary repertory company known for clever, accessible works built on the technical triumvirate of ballet, jazz and “modern” plus a slick, Euro-chic aesthetic obtained via the company’s deep ties with Nederlands Dans Theater. Former Hubbard Street artistic director Jim Vincent left Chicago for NDT in 2009 (though he’s since moved on); Hubbard’s current leader, Glenn Edgerton, also has long-term NDT links, and Hubbard’s resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo, from Spain, is a Nederlands alum.  
   LINES, which appeared at the Wisconsin Union Theater twice, in 2005 and again in 2010, is simply the unique artistic vision of Alonzo King, whose artifice-free ballets – compositions of cosmic geometry at once more ancient than Europe and newer than today – are like images from the mind’s eye of a Zen master, framed in the tangled roots of western classical dance. In order to carry off King’s conceptions, his post-neoclassical ballet dancers possess an elastic vocabulary that subsumes the sum of human possibility without sacrificing perfection of line, form and flow.
The program consists of three substantive pieces, which, taken together, allow the audience see what each company is made of and then to ponder the mysterious amalgam that is “Azimuth,” choreographed by King.
   King’s “Rasa” (2007), which opens the evening, was chosen, I suppose, because it’s a LINES signature piece that’s toured the globe.  It features a score by Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain, with whom King has collaborated several times.  The dance is built of shifting pas de deux and ensemble movements that condense in the interplay of light, rhythmic energies and the astonishing physicality of LINES’ dancers.
   Representing Hubbard Street is Cerrudo’s “Little Mortal Jump” (2012). “It’s one of Alejandro’s latest works,” Edgerton says.  “I feel it represents where he is with his choreography right now.  I chose him because he’s our resident choreographer, and “Little Mortal Jump” was made on the current company, so it also represents where all of us are right now.  It’s a wonderful piece, entertaining but thought-provoking.  It’s lighthearted but it turns substantial at the end, with the last duet.  It’s a series of vignettes – there’s no story to it, but there’s a trajectory.  Without being literal it takes you on an emotional path. It has incredible stage theatrics, and the music’s very powerful and dramatic, especially at the end. The work leaves you with this really great feeling. 
   “It’s a fantastic program,” Edgerton continues. “’Rasa’ and ‘Little Mortal Jump’ are vastly different, and then in ‘Azimuth’ [which features all twelve LINES dancers and sixteen of Hubbard Street’s eighteen] we have both companies together – twenty-eight people onstage.  It’s very powerful, how all these artists with very different backgrounds intermingle.”
   The collaboration came about, Edgerton says, because he was at LINES three years ago watching King’s company rehearse.  “I was fascinated with Alonzo’s way of working with dancers –the way he was challenging them – and I wanted my dancers to experience that.  Both companies are classically trained, but they approach that training differently.  I said to Alonzo, ‘our dancers are so vastly different from yours – wouldn’t it be interesting to show that juxtaposition?’  But what we ended up with was showing the likeness instead.  Alonzo made a wonderful work that shows how dance is a universal language; the two companies come together in movement and expression, and it’s very exciting.”  
   It’s not just the finished piece – the whole process was exciting, Edgerton clarifies.  “My dancers loved working with LINES’ dancers, as people and as artists.  I could see it in their faces, but I also heard it directly from them.  I could see how the LINES dancers also were inspired by my dancers – it was a win-win situation all the way, and it was very enriching for all of us to work together.” 
   That said, most of the work took place across 1863 miles, as the crow flies.  “The initial stage involved taking a piece of Alonzo’s into the company,” Edgerton says.  That ballet, “Following the Current Upstream,” originally was created for Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in 2000.
   “We got to live in that piece first,” Edgerton says.  “After we absorbed it [it became part of Hubbard Street’s repertory in 2011], we started working on the collaboration.  Alonzo came to Chicago to work on it, and then we worked on it separately.  Alonzo sent us his notes and we sent our rehearsal comments or questions back – ‘what is the intention of this step or the other?’  We also worked back and forth via video, so we were well set up to fit the two companies together in a very short time – though of course there was a great deal of trust and understanding involved all along.” 
   After a year of this long-distance affair the two companies met at UC Irvine late last summer.  “We engaged an old colleague of mine there, Jodie Gates, because we’d agreed that we should work on neutral territory so one company didn’t feel like the other’s guest – and we thought a university dance program would be interested in watching Alonzo create a new work, and in having students watch the process of two companies coming together unfold,” Edgerton says.  “It all worked out beautifully.  And then we reconvened in January, a few days before the premiere [at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, on Feb. 1].” 
   It’s worth noting that this program is only slated for four cities – after Berkeley it goes to Chicago’s Harris Theater (Mar. 14-17), and after the Madison performance it makes one last stop in Los Angeles, in June.

Despite the short time the companies spent together, “Azimuth” has beauty and power, King told me after the Berkeley premiere. 
   Azimuth is a perfect Alonzo King concept.  In astronomy, the azimuth is the angle of a celestial object along the arc of the observer’s horizon measured from a fixed point, usually north; for example, due north has an azimuth of 0, and due east’s is 90 degrees. But since King’s cosmic geometry isn’t literal, I asked what azimuth means to him, and what he did with the idea in this dance.
   “For me,” he says, “where a person stands is the axis mundi. Where you are as you stand on this sphere in space – and where you fix your attention – that’s azimuth.  Where you’re standing and where your attention is are separated by distance.  Art or love eradicates subject and object – when two become one, time and distance are anihilated because of absorption.  The aspiration of a fixed figure at any point on earth is usually a diagonal, reaching up.  How do you combine heaven and earth, bring willpower and goal and desire into one spot?  The idea of the word ‘heaven’ is a trigger.  People think of an old white man in the sky. But heaven is what your joy is.  Humans want to avoid pain and suffering – to find joy that doesn’t go stale.  Our choices are based on those things.  Everyone has some dream or is in love with something and with that you want union, you want to get rid of separation.  I love you – that’s a separation.  Lao Tse says that the painter has to become the horse before he paints the horse.  That’s what you have to do as a dancer.  You’re inhabiting an idea.  It’s not a step.  If you just do steps you’re frozen, without luminance.  So that’s the point of ‘Azimuth.’”
   Like geometry, music is a key to King’s works.  I’m always reminded of string theory – the idea that everything in the universe is composed of tiny vibrating strings, and so, as theoretical physicist Michio Kaku says, “we are nothing but cosmic melodies” played out on the instrument of our bodies.  For “Azimuth,” King chose some original music by Millennial generation Bay Area composer Ben Juodvalkis, and a lot of Russian liturgical chants.  “Those Russians singing liturgical – you don’t hear it that often, and they do it so damn well, with a kind of release and Russian gusto and sincerity – it plugs into all kinds of release-based music.  It’s not about a pretty sound, but a true sound, like the soul is singing.  The Russians are very soulful in that way.  And the technique is faultless.  The source of that sound is a heartspace.  It’s quite moving, and it’s important to put something that’s moving from the heart into the theater – people in the audience are so cerebral and battered by the reality of living life in the world.  You want to embrace, not batter them.  I was just reading an article on  The writer was bemoaning that art isn’t more political, that apolitical art is meaningless, and I thought – what’s more political than saying ‘you are the answer and you are the problem, and there are states beyond the halloween show of the world.’”
   That’s a revealing statement.  To “get” it – and to get the full impact of King’s ballets – you have to be willing to detach, breathe, and enter that state the mindfulness gurus call open space.  If “Azimuth” turns out to be as effective as King’s works for LINES alone, the energies of 28 highly diverse, exquisitely trained dancers coming together at a fixed point – the Overture Hall stage – should offer plenty to meditate on.