Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Dance Review: Alonzo King's LINES Ballet at the Wisconsin Union Theater

O'Malley and Babatunji.     Photo by Quinn B. Wharton 

by Susan Kepecs 
Alonzo King, founder and artistic director of San Francisco-based LINES Ballet, whick took the stage at Wisconsin Union Theater’s Shannon Hall on Friday night, March 11, is one of the great revolutionary artists of our times.  What makes that so is actually quite simple; King takes the speedy, line-lengthened, plotless, “leotard production” breakthroughs of Balanchine’s mid-twentieth century American ballet and strips away virtually all of the artifice – the formalist conventions, rooted in court dancing from the days of Louis XIV and written in stone two hundred-plus years later by Marius Petipa – the curtseys, the tutus, the pointework, the exclusive use of specific, ritualized steps bearing French names.  
People sometimes take King for a “contemporary” dancemaker, but that’s missing the point; there’s a glossy commerciality (like what you see from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago) in what’s commonly called contemporary dance that’s utterly absent in King’s work.  King’s astoundingly elastic, postmodernist, off-kilter choreography sometimes touches more lightly than others on straight-up neoclassical vocabulary, but it’s ballet nonetheless.  LINES dancers, as King often says, are virtuoso musicians who play their bodies as instruments, turning sound into energy.  And his Terpsichorean orchestra is honed to perfection with rigorous ballet technique.  The result brings classical dance into the global, multicultural twenty-first century.
This approach requires over the top boldness, both physical and emotional, from the dancers. The works on the March 11 program were risky in additional ways.  In the hands of a lesser choreographer, creating a new work to Bach’s double violin concerto in D minor – Balanchine used this in his most beloved ballet, “Concerto Barocco” – would be downright dangerous. But structurally and texturally, King’s piece is sparklingly unique. Yet King is acutely aware of what it means to make a dance to this particularly loaded piece of music, sprinkling his ballet throughout with winking references to Balanchine’s work. 
In the first, Vivace movement, Balanchine has a corps of eight women on pointe, dancing in orderly lines with two female soloists representing the violins.  In King’s piece nine LINES dancers fill the space with dynamic patterns, fronted by two women (Kara Wilkes and YuJin Kim, both remarkably fluid), plus the the bouyantly powerful Babatunji.  A smidge of black church glory shines through; where Balanchine’s first movement ends with a courtly bow, King’s company leaps in unison, then spins, arms raised to the heavens.   
The Largo movement picks up the daisy chain motif Balanchine loved to use in his ballets, including “Concerto Barocco” – but in place of “Barocco”’s corps plus pas de deux, King uses Wilkes and Kim with Robb Beresford and Michael Montgomery to create eyepopping moments of harmonious dissonance with two (shifting) pairs of dancers doing different pas simultaneously.  The full company returns for the Allegro, flowing in and out of unison; at one point the dancers are all violins, flying forward one after the other, arms carving through space as the bow strikes the strings.  And King has kicked the complex geometry of the first movement up a notch; you see not just the dancers, but the negative spaces between them, vibrating with movement.  The Allegro demands nothing less – King’s patterns spring from his deconstructivist approach, but Balanchine’s more formal dance has the same vibration.  
The very short “Men’s Quintet,” to a contemporary violin-based concerto by Edgar Meyer with saxophone virtuoso Pharoah Sanders, is an excerpt from a longer work, The Radius of Convergence.  I’d have preferred seeing the Quintet in context, but what I did see was a showcase of male dance prowess.  Soloist Michael Montgomery, a force of nature, moves in counterpoint to a corps of four men (Robb Beresford, Shauaib Elhassan, Jeffrey Van Sciver, Babatunji).  The four often danced in a line behind Montgomery; at one point they stood still, lined up in profile, each with a hand on the next man’s head, like a row of ancient warrior sculptures.  In feel if not entirely in look, “Men’s Quintet” is as modernist, in the sense of Graham or Ailey, as the Violin Concerto is post-Balanchine, postmodern ballet. 
The very idea of dancing to wild sounds is radical – a hair’s breadth or two from dancing to the music of the spheres.  In the 43-minute Biophony King goes there, with a remarkable score by Bernie Krause, who’s spent decades recording natural soundscapes in wild places.  Krause coined the term “biophony,” which refers to “the collective signature produced at one time by all sound-producing organisms in a given habitat.”   
Krause’s score miraculously contains all the myriad nuances of the world’s endangered habitats – the animals, the winds, the rains, even trees creaking.  And LINES’ dancers use this score exactly as they use the Bach, or any other piece of music, riding its waves or moving against, through, or around them.  
Biophany is very balletic — there’s a greater number of (artifice-less) saut de chats, coupe jete turns and pirouettes than usual for a LINES piece.  King talks about ballet’s ultimate roots in nature, and this observation links back to his point.  
Biophany is also a much more organic piece than either the Bach or the Quintet.  It’s not a leotard ballet, but the production values are just a whisper – Axel Morgenthaler’s engaged lighting and Robert Rosenwasser’s gently nature-colored costumes suggest rather than illustrate the ecologies of the score.  You can’t analyze Biophany, you just have to sit back and take in its diaphanous lushness.  Having worked in some wild places myself, I can attest to the fact that King and company have nailed the essences of the places represented in the ballet’s eight segments.  The Borneo rainforest in “Tempestas” breathes with plant and animal life; “Mare Nostrum” captures the furling and unfurling action of the sea on life within; at the Kenyan watering hole (“Still Life at the Equator”) Laura O’Malley and Babatunji as prey and predator are caught in the same breath-catching exchange that sends chills down your spine when the lions go after the antelopes on National Geographic specials.  In the haunting Alaska segment, “Nunaviq,” Courtney Henry, floating through a string loose arabesque turns while wolves howl and birds chirp, isn’t a creature at all, but a quintessential nature spirit.  

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Encore" Proves Madison Loves Ballet

Cohen, in Lancero Op. 1  © Kat Stiennon 2016

by Susan Kepecs
If anyone thought Madison Ballet cancelled its spring season early in February because this city is just too small to support a company of professional ballet dancers on season contract, “Encore” – an independent choreographers’ showcase put together by the dancers of the shuttered company in two and a half weeks, in the aftermath of the cancellation announcement – proved them dead wrong.  “Encore’”s three shows (March 4-5) packed Overture’s Promenade Hall, generously donated by the Overture Center for this benefit performance.  Yes, it’s pretty late to be posting a review of a show that happened more than two weeks ago – I’ve been laid up with the devil’s own cold and a case of antibiotic-induced brain fog.  But the local importance of this performance merits a review nonetheless.  I attended the final, evening show on March 5, which was sold out – many people were turned away.  Those lucky enough to get in were wildly enthusiastic, whistling and cheering even more than the audience with which I saw the touring production of Motown the Musical at Overture Hall on March 1. 
That happy "Encore" audience owes a debt of gratitude to second-year Madison Ballet dancer Elizabeth Cohen, the lead organizer of this self-funded, collaborative effort.  And also to the rest of the dancers, who, in the face of job loss, pulled together one more time to present professional ballet in Madison.  They couldn’t let go without one more show – the bond that forms when you dance with people every day for a year, or several, is tough to break – and it’s that unity that makes a group of disparate dancers look like a company.  Madison Ballet may soon rise, like the Phoenix, from its own ashes, but we will never see this whole, particular group of dancers together again.  That, plus the fact that “Encore” was also a retirement performance for Rachelle Butler and Jason Gomez, made for a particularly poignant evening.
Thirteen short works were on the program.  To make a blanket statement, the quality was uneven.  That’s exactly what you’d expect from a showcase like “Encore,” presenting works by young dancers, many of whom have never choreographed before.  But concerts of this sort offer a look at who the dancers in any given company really are – what interests them, and how they prefer to move.  Stepping into the choreographer’s role pushes them to grow artistically.  And seeing works made by young dancers inevitably points toward the future of ballet.
Three of the pieces weren’t originals.  The short temporal space in which “Encore” was put together, coupled with the desire most ballerinas have to dance the great traditional roles, led to the choice of a pair of grand pas de deux in the public domain.  Shannon Quirk and Joe LaChance, who partnered her all year, danced the lush, formal wedding pas from Sleeping Beauty, following the Petipa choreography.  LaChance is not Quirk’s equal – his partnering, and his variation, were shaky.  But Quirk, though she looked tired, held her own in the demanding, balance-fraught pas – and her elegance and precise footwork in the old-fashioned Princess Aurora variation drew cheers from the audience. 
Cohen and Cyrus Bridwell recreated the Don Quijote Act III grand pas de deux (also after Petipa).  This is a well-matched pair, and their pas was neatly done.  Bridwell put some impressive loft into his bravura variation, but Cohen, formerly of Ballet Latino San Antonio, was unmistakably the star – utterly in her element, eyes sparkling, zipping through the saucy Kitri variation, fan flicking, one come-hither hand set defiantly on her hip.
Also in the Spanish vein, guest artist Jessica Lin offered a proud, flirtatious, flamenco-esque solo-with-chair, “Carmen Habanera” (to the eponymous piece from Bizet’s opera); it was choreographed by Edward Ellison, with whom she studied in New York.
Nine of the remaining ten dances were by Madison Ballet company members.  A couple of them were disappointing.  Phillip Ollenburg’s contemporary solo for Quirk was nicely evocative of a creature crawling from and returning to a habitat created with a string of LED lights reminiscent of sea phosphorous.  But strings of lights are becoming cliché these days, and the dance itself looked hastily put together, failing to take full advantage of Ollenburg’s own prodigious creativity or Quirk’s considerable chops off pointe.
Kristen Hammer used a country-western song with really trashy lyrics about spousal abuse for her piece “Trailor for Rent” (trailor?), and asked Annika Reikersdorfer, Abigail Henninger and Kelanie Murphy to interpret them literally.  The concept was sophomoric, but the contemporary ballet steps were nicely turned, and the dancers did a fine job with what they were given.
Several works were traditionally balletic.  Abigail Henninger’s “One,” a pretty ensemble piece (Rachelle Butler, Hammer, Quirk, Reikersdorfer, LaChance) led by Gomez, who’s never looked better, was built of upward-reaching movements set on an adagio / allegro structure, and possessed with a transcendant sense of calm. 
Kelanie Murphy also offered an ensemble ballet, “Looking Up,” which she set on Butler, Nancy Cole, Quirk, Reikersdorfer, LaChance, and Jackson Warring.  Nothing about “Looking Up” made it stand out, but it was a satisfyingly active piece of choreography, simple but light and feathery, without pointework but making full use of classical vocabulary.
We saw a completely different side of Murphy in her sparkling two-minute jitterbug tap duet with Warring to Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes.”  It’s not the stuff of formal ballet repertory, but a pair of performers reveling in the delight of doing something they absolutely love is, without doubt, the purest form of dance there is. 
Warring, and Cohen, are two new choreographers to keep an eye on.  Cohen created a very short solo for herself, “Lancero Op. 1,” to a piano piece by local composer Glenn Sparks, who played it live.  In plain white leotard and tights, with a wide white shawl, Cohen, a superb ballet technician who hasn’t yet had many opportunities with Madison Ballet to show what she can do, flowed like liquid – a lithe spirit dancing free, on pointe.   
Warring’s very solid “Optimism” featured Cohen, Bridwell and LaChance in a dynamic love triangle.  “Optimism”’s narrative base, its contemporary, off-pointe style, its crazy, athletic lifts, its quickly shifting action, and the electronic score by cellist Zoe Keating reflected the influence of frequent Madison Ballet guest choreographer General McArthur Hambrick.  But its depth and substance also revealed Warring’s budding artistry in the choreographic realm.
Ballet veterans Gomez and Butler contributed noteworthy works that left me hoping both will continue to choreograph for Madison Ballet and other companies now that they’re retired from the stage. 
Gomez choreographed a lovely, very Latin pas de deux, “Lejos y Cerca,” for Henninger and himself (in street clothes) to a nuevo flamenco piece by the eclectic Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.  “Lejos y Cerca” was a dancey, happy, triumph of a pas, full of high overhead lifts and dips; Gomez and Henninger smiled throughout.  
Rachelle Butler’s deliciously wild “Jerry’s Songs,” deeply rooted in Balanchine technique, was set to ‘60s soul. The concept’s not entirely original, since Madison Ballet artistic director W. Earle Smith did a fluffy neoclassical repertory piece, “Groovy,” to a set of ‘60s tunes a couple of years back.  But Butler’s dance was much more from-the-heart; she chose songs her father loves, and the work was dedicated to him. “Jerry’s Songs”’ simple boy-meets girl, relationship goes bad, girls have fun theme was done tongue-in-cheek.  In the first part, Henninger and Warring – a comic pair to begin with, since she’s tall and leggy, and he’s short (the mismatch is only visual) – stalked each other; Henninger repeatedly climbed up Warring’s back, snarling at him.  In the second section Cohen, Cole, Hammer, Murphy and Reikersdorfer pranced and spun with glee, heads bopping – and in the end Henninger got a new man, LaChance, who carried her offstage. 
Although she out-did him in the ‘60s department, Butler has always been Smith’s protégé, and Smith is a master choreographer.  For her farewell, Smith gave her permission to dance, partnered by Gomez, his luxurious, pure neoclassical Caccini pas de deux, to the Italian composer’s “Ave Maria.” The pas was choreographed on and for Butler in 2008; she reprised it in 2014.
There’s great chemistry between Butler and Gomez, which began when they were paired in Smith’s jazzy “Expressions” for Madison Ballet’s 2015 Repertory II.  That bond, strengthened by their mutual retirement, lent the dance a piercing sadness, heightened because Madison Ballet principal accompanist Marina Hegge, who knows these dancers well, played the piece live onstage.  Butler has always danced this pas beautifully, but has she ever had a partner as steady and handsome as Gomez?  Has her phrasing ever been so exquisite?  Gomez dipped and swirled her, then swept her into a lift; she extended a leg, foot impossibly pointed; its retarded journey to the floor went on forever.  I felt my throat catch.  I was sitting next to former Madison Ballet dancer Jessica Mackinson; there were tears in her eyes. 
Encore cast  © SKepecs 2016

Monday, March 7, 2016

MOTOWN THE MUSICAL Hits Close to the Mark

The Temptations (MoTOWN the Musical First National Tour)
© Joan Marcus 2014

By Susan Kepecs
When I was 18, my life’s ambition was to have a radio station called WSBR – W-Smokey Bill Robinson, you know, for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.  I could just hear the purring station identification announcement: “WSBR – all Smokey, all the time!”  Today, my iTunes is stocked with the Miracles albums I wore the vinyl rings off of in my youth.  So I really wanted to love Motown the Musical, which I saw at Overture Hall last Tuesday night, March 1.  And I guess I pretty much did. 
The thinnish plot is taken from Motown founder / producer / songwriter Berry Gordy’s autobiography and hinges on his complicated romance with Diana Ross, but the historical backstory is what really carries the tunes.  If you lived the Motown years – the late ‘50s through the early ‘80s – all it takes is a projected image or two from the assassinations of JFK and MLK, Jr., or a shot of napalm, or Neil Armsrong in his moon landing suit, and you know what’s going on (and yes, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is part of this story).   
Motown’s clever, simple sets evoke everything they need to evoke.  Some of the recreated acts – in particular, the Commodores and the temptin’ Temptations, in their shiny sharkskin suits and patent leather shoes – are the spitting image of the soul revues I used to see at the Regal Theater on the south side of Chicago, where I grew up.   The choreography, by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, did a pretty good job of capturing the essence of those old soul shows.  
My personal Tony award goes to Rashad Naylor, a dead-on ringer for Jackie Wilson doing his 1957 jive hit “Reet Petite.”  Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., as David Ruffin (the Temptations’ lead singer), and Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye, came close.  So did 14-year old Leon Outlaw, Jr. as the young Michael Jackson, though my companion suspected there might have been some lip synching going on there.  Chester Gregory, as Berry Gordy, has a perfect set of Motown pipes – if he’d been part of Detroit’s ‘60s pantheon he’d have busted some charts.  Allison Semmes doesn’t quite sound like Diana Ross, but like Gregory, she sure can sing. Jesse Nager, who played my beloved Smokey, did an admirable job, but he neither looked nor sounded like the real thing, not that anyone ever could!  
None of that goes by way of complaint.  My only real gripe, if I have one, is that if I’d written the show I’d have come up with a slightly different song list.  Most of the picks were Motown’s biggest hits, though among my personal favorites are some more obscure tunes, like the Miracles’ silky lament “Won’t You Take Me Back,” off their 1963 album The Fabulous Miracles. Overall there were enough Miracles anthems, I guess, for anybody but me – but where were Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is,” and his sublime “Let’s Get It On”?  Not even “Superstition,” from Stevie Wonder’s wonderful 1972 album Talking Book?  
And then there's this: Gordy moved Motown to Los Angeles the year Talking Book came out; he sold the company in 1988.  And really, except for the first couple of California years, Motown – both in the show and in real life – was a bust. Naylor, as Rick James singing his 1981 single “Super Freak,” provided comic relief, but I could have done without it.  Ditto the emphasis on Diana Ross once she split from the Supremes in 1970, which overwhelmed the second half of the show – though I know that’s part of the plot.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Alonzo King's LINES Ballet Finally Returns to the Wisconsin Union Theater

Alonzo King.  Photo courtesy of LINES Ballet. 

By Susan Kepecs
In the age of big fat lies – yes, I’m talkin’ about politics – here’s a truth you can take to the bank.  If the first 70 years of the twentieth century gave us a long stretch of revolutionary art (you can put Nijinsky, Stravinsky, Graham, Balanchine, Picasso, Warhol, Miles, Monk and Coltrane in that parade), the repressive political-economic climate of the half-century since the asassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. has given us an epoch of ordinary art.  There’s a lot of derivative work out there, and some of it’s excellent, for what it is.  But paradigm shifters have been few and far between for ages now. Among the very few of those rare souls working in the ephemeral art of dance today is choreographer Alonzo King.  His San Francisco-based LINES Ballet returns, after a six-year absence, to Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater this coming Friday, March 11.
King, who trained at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, has something in common with the great neoclassical master – both define dance as music made visible.  But – quite unlike the perspective we get from the famous Soviet emigré who was smitten by American jazz and created a distinctly American approach to ballet – King’s western classical dance was forged in the crucible of his identity as a black man from the Civil Rights generation and the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda.  
King’s style is much more elemental and closer to earth than Balanchine’s, and he rarely puts women on pointe these days. King works the athletic lushness, the arabesques, the pulled-upness of ballet from a point of personal cosmic geometry that’s grounded in science, history, and a sense of universal spirituality.
“Classical dance isn’t some idea somebody in Europe thought up,” he told me some years ago.  “It’s based on the discoveries of Ptolemy and Copernicus.  It’s about gravity and space, coupled with humanity.  And every abstraction stands for something else – as humans we’re a triumvarate of mind, body and spirit.  Ballet is a symbolic language, and many of its referents are African, Moorish.  Look at African sculpture; it’s abstract and geometric.  The geometry that’s inherent in ballet was a gift to Europe from the Moors – they occupied the continent for 800 years.  You see Moorish influence in cathedrals, and also in ballet.  Arabesques aren’t Italian, and the pavane preceded the waltz.”
Two recent works are on the bill next Friday night.  The first opens a door through which we can ponder the multilayered historical relationship between King and Balanchine.  “Concerto for Two Violins” (2013; 16 minutes) was choreographed to the Bach double violin concerto in D minor that Balanchine used for one of his signature ballets, “Concerto Barroco” (1941), still in New York City Ballet’s active repertory and staged, by the répétiteurs of the Balanchine Trust, on countless Balanchine-based companies around the world.  King’s Bach ballet, which I’ve only seen in YouTube excerpts, differs markedly from Balanchine’s in structure and form, but the musicality in the choreograhy is strikingly parallel – partly an artifact of the music itself, but also due to the perspicacious musicianship the two dancemakers share.
“When you were at SAB, did you do that piece?” I asked King on the phone earlier this week. 
“No, I didn’t,” he says.  “To tell you the truth I love the music and I thought, ‘this isn’t the sole property of Balanchine – this should be done by every damn body who’s a choreographer.'  It’s brilliant – the combination of math and love and genius.  It’s perfect.  How could you not want to choreograph to it?’”
“Concerto” reveals King’s formalist side; the second piece, “Biophony” (2015; 43 minutes) returns ballet to nature.  The “Biophony” score is the work of the remarkable Bernie Krause, who’s spent decades recording natural soundscapes in wild places and who’s written a wonderfully titled book about his work: The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places (Back Bay Books, 2013).  Krause coined the term “biophony,” which refers to the collective signature produced at one time by all sound-producing organisms in a given habitat.     
Obviously, the scores for these two works are at different ends of the musical spectrum.  I tried turning off the sound and watching the video clips from both dances.  The dancers in a soundless “Concerto” just might have been dancing to the Krause score, but the reverse didn’t seem true.
“There’s a tighter form in the concerto, in the way it’s choreographed,” King says.  In ‘Biophony’ the structure isn’t as easy to pick up, though it’s there.  It’s softer; its naturalness is more apparent.  There’s also a length and breadth in ‘Biophony’ that breathes in a nonlinear way.  The Bach is very specific – it’s bright, and there’s a bit of a hard edge in it.”
The two works also are differentiated by the political-ecological message that’s implicit in “Biophony.”  In a TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/bernie_krause_the_voice_of_the_natural_world?language=enKrause is explicit about diminishing habitats.  I wondered if King’s reason for picking this music was equally direct. 
“Absolutely,” he says. “We’re destroying nature, and with it, ourselves.  The message is incredibly important.  It’s definitely in there, when you see the whole piece.  We’re eating ourselves alive – it’s shocking.  We have supposedly come so far technologically and yet in terms of emotional maturity we haven’t traveled very far at all.  It can’t be said enough that we’re creating hell – we destroy living bodies and natural habitats in a minute, without even thinking about it.”
Everything in ballet ultimately comes from nature, King told me once, listing examples: spirals, the movement of rise and fall.  “We live on a ball circling the earth on its axis – that’s fouette turns.”
So the Krause score seems like a piece of music King's been waiting to find for many years, perhaps unconsciously.
            “That’s true,” he says.  “When Bernie and I connected he was saying ‘I approached several choreographers, but they all thought it was so weird – it wasn’t music.’  And I thought ‘wow, what a missed opportunity – I’m glad, because it was meant for me!’  Bernie’s brilliant and dedicated, and this score is just beautiful music.” 
Because it’s wild, the Krause score also plays right into King’s sense of “disobedient musicality” – choreographic kin to the dissonance you hear in Thelonious Monk and every great jazz pianist who’s come since.  But did the unpredictable structure of nature’s orchestras also present more of a challenge for the dancers than music passed through the filters of civilization?
“The dancers went right to it,” King says.  “One thing about dancers is that there’s so much we understand as natural – we don’t think of the way we move as being extraordinary until people look at us and say ‘oh, that’s not what most people do!’  But a dancer is a musician. Great dancers have to be masterful musicians – they’re always thinking of riding the wave, or slicing through it so there’s dissonance.  And the piano and the orchestra are always in mind – dancers are always thinking ‘as a soloist and as part of a group how do I step into the flow, or step out and create a contra rhythm?’  Just staying on top of the rhythm isn’t musical at all – it’s following the metronome, it’s being a puppet.  Real musicality is about manipulating sound into energy.”
How much of the choreography for “Biophony” was done by feel, and how much was research?  “It’s all feel and intuition,” King says.  “What I wanted to do – what I always want to do – is create a wonderful work.  But I didn’t want to mimic the animals.”
You can’t always tell which animals you’re hearing in the first place, he points out.  “When we started working with the score there were moments that were alarming.  I’d hear someone say 'Oh my god, Bernie, where were you when that lion was roaring?’ and he’d say “that’s not a lion, that’s a pig from Borneo!'”
But “Biophany” isn’t about lions and pigs.  “There’s something about hearing a sound, when you’re really listening,” King says – “you’re imbibing the feeling and sensation of the sound regardless of the animal that makes it.” 
Sometimes, he implies, the animal is closer to the surface than others. “For example, there are some bees in 'Biophony,' and there’s an onomatopoeia that occurs – but the inspiration is the way nature operates, as opposed to how it looks.  It's about trying to get the essence of something, and that’s true with any score.  What’s the essence of any instrument?  There’s a strike, an appeal, an urgency, a laziness; a sound will retard or whisper or be cacaphonous, and you either react to it or you go deeper to get to the essence of it.”
“Biophany,” at least from the video clips I’ve seen, also reveals the essence of King’s complex, multifaceted philosophy of ballet.  He once gave me a great line that’s directly relevant here, so I’m going to repeat it: “When you see classical ballet, you have to ask youself why grown women with big strong minds are doing fairy variations.  So you take the form and start again.” 
“Biophany” does that to a T.  Somehow, without the pointe shoes, the tiaras, and the tutus, some of the excerpts are – yes, they are – fairy variations.  Enchanting feats of perfectly turned ballet technique and musicality, danced by female soloists.  One’s a segment with Laura O’Malley in a short, feathery, tutu-looking skirt, dancing to a soundtrack that might be gulls and waves; another features the extraordinarily limber Courtney Henry, in a flowing dance dress, turning sound into energy to – whale songs?  O’Malley and Henry seem the personification of nature spirits, the forerunners of medieval European fairies.  The whole effect is sort of magical – both circular and linear, a real piece of Alonzo King cosmic geometry.  There’s linear time, stretching ballet back to it’s deeply ancient roots at one end and way past Petipa into the future on the other – and, simultaneously, the whole notion of fairy variations comes full circle.