The new season of dance at UCSB Arts & Lectures kicks off next week with a company that’s got strong Santa Barbara ties: Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Now based in San Francisco, King spent his teen years here on the Central Coast and danced with Santa Barbara Ballet before going on to study and perform in New York. He founded LINES more than 30 years ago, and the company has developed an international reputation for sleek, contemporary ballet choreography and world-class performers. Last in town in 2004, they return on Wednesday night with two ensemble works from the recent repertory: “Resin” (2011), which explores Sephardic musical traditions, and “Meyer” (2013), set to a commissioned score by celebrated composer and double-bassist Edgar Meyer. Last week, King spoke to me about finding humanity in dance, as well as the inextricable link between music and movement.
You work in close collaboration with your dancers. What do you look for in a performer, and how do you know when you’ve found it? You look for people who are dancing their consciousness. We dance who we are, sing who we are, talk who we are, and exhibit who we are by our actions. In someone’s voice you hear a lot about who they are. You can hear whether they are angry, self-righteous, vain. A lot of heart and mind are embedded in voice. You get a similar sense when someone auditions. You can see when people are imitating, when they’re self-conscious, looking for a reward, or posing. You can also see when they are inebriated by being in dialogue with a form — when they want to serve the art, not show themselves off. That is what you’re drawn to. When you see someone who is being herself, then you have an original, and that’s who you want to work with.
You talk a lot about process over product. How do you teach this philosophy to your dancers? There’s an idea that your occupation is nine-to-five, and prior and post you have nothing to do with that, but the reality is that who you are and what you think is really your life’s job. The goal is to discover who you are. The artists I work with, they’re thinking about how they approach everything in terms of honesty — that means from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed, what they put in their bodies, what they drink and eat, how they greet people — being present so they are not multitasking or hiding.
If we really boil it down, we are not our personal stories. Marital status, sex, race, age, skin tone, geographic location, where you grew up — those things are not who we are. At the end of our lives, the real questions will be: How much did you love and give back? How much did you participate? How much were you really present? That is done in seconds of thought. People have this idea that they’re going to do something big. But we are transformed by how we think, second by second.
Why does dance matter? Because everything is dance. There’s nothing that’s not dance. The big bang — what was that but a big ballet? You cannot make sound without movement, so they’re inextricable. What we have in the earliest primordial cultures is sound and movement. What’s going on in our bodies but blood pumping through vessels, hearts beating, speeding and slowing; what is the principal expression of life but movement? What is not dance? is really the question.
There is a huge belief in sports and even social dance in our communities, but theatrical dance is really suffering. It has been ripped out of our education. Art has become elitist because it’s a thing of choice and therefore is about who can afford it. In America in particular, people feel threatened when they don’t understand something because they have not had experience with it. Theatrical dance is less and less known, and that’s horribly sad. Yet if every bit of money was taken away, it would still occur: Someone has to do something because they have to do it, and that’s always been the case.
What can audiences expect from your Santa Barbara program? What they will really be seeing is artists at the highest level discussing — in a physical treatise — what life is about. What people have in common on the planet is the avoidance of pain and suffering, and the aim for some kind of joy that’s ever new. We’re all engaged in a balancing act of trying to obtain that with all the obstacles that come into life. That is what the audience is going to be seeing. And they’re going to see it danced by extraordinary artists at the top of their game who perform around the globe.
I think it’s important that people come to the theater and stop thinking — that they come without expectations, sit down, open their hearts, and allow themselves to feel. It’s not important to be smart. The work is sculpted to speak to the soul.
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Alonzo King LINES Ballet at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Wednesday, October 2, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for tickets and info. A community dance class with the company will be held at the Gustafson School of Dance (2285 Las Positas Rd.) on Tuesday, October 1, at 4:30 p.m. Call (805) 966-6950 or visit sbdancealliance.org to reserve a space.