UCSB Arts & Lectures kicked off its dance series for the season with this thrilling program from San Francisco–based Alonzo King. The first half was a five-part suite set to assorted movements from the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich. As a single horizontal stripe of bright light crept gradually up the backdrop, the 11 dancers of the LINES company twisted and turned through a dense yet flowing series of tableau.
King’s style emphasizes the distinctive personalities of individual performers; there’s a richness to the details of his work that’s visually stunning. If he’s less inventive when it comes to massing groups in larger compositions, that may explain the presence of the horizontal rule, as well as the introduction in the middle movement of an onstage source of light, a seven-foot light staff that one of the dancers carried and twirled. Both of these lighting features seemed designed to complete the choreographic picture by framing or underlining it.
In the second half, the company turned to a more recent composition, “Sand,” which premiered last April with the musicians Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran live in the pit playing their compositions. Although this performance used recorded music, it retained the improvisational edge of Lloyd and Moran’s decidedly free playing. Like the Shostakovich in the opener, it was a terrifically satisfying and well-chosen soundtrack for this kind of movement. In the final two sections of the eight-part piece, ambiguous ripples of confrontation and struggle broke the sandy surface of what had been until then a work of playful lyricism. These glimpses of darkness and strain anchored the work’s exemplary fluidity in an implied context that was, like real life, larger and more complex. King is already an important and influential choreographer, especially here on the West Coast. With “Sand” he may be signaling that the best is yet to come.