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Flynn Center Blog

Speaking to Inner Voices

By Cynthia Close, Burlington Writers Workshop

A review of Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s May 14 performance downstairs at FlynnSpace.

A set of drums on the left and a small arrangement of speakers and audio controls connected to an amplified violin on the right was all that occupied the raised platform serving as a stage in the intimate FlynnSpace. There were few remaining seats when I arrived with a friend on Saturday night, so we had to sit on folding chairs on the side wings of the stage. We did not have long to wait before the action began.

As Flynn Artistic Director Steve MacQueen made his introductory remarks, Jean Martin settled himself at the drums and the anticipated star of the evening, Tanya Tagaq, stepped onto center stage, followed by the avant-garde violinist Jesse Zubot.

Tagaq’s indigenous roots were hinted at in a simple long, fringed, figure-hugging black dress topped with a bright red patterned neckpiece that barely covered her shoulders. Her stage presence bridged tradition to the “now.” Having listened to her mind-blowing vocals but never having seen her perform live, I was surprised to hear her sweet, unassuming, young-sounding speaking voice. She was smiling, and addressed the audience directly, but modestly, telling us a simple story about listening to her native Canadian grandmother. She did not prepare us for what was to come except to say that the performance was always an improvisation. They would be tapping into the journey that the music would take them on. She did hint, not a warning exactly, rather forgiving us, the audience, in advance, in case anyone felt they had to leave during the show. It was the only foreshadowing of what was to come.


Martin and Zubot began playing, riffing off each other. Tagaq swayed gently, closing her eyes, as though awaiting some sign from elsewhere that only she could see, hear, and feel. After a while she lifted the mic to her lips, dropped her head, her loose brown hair fell, covering her face and a sound that was not quite human, not quite animal began to weave its way into the rhythmic drumming. She breathed with the violin.

The diminutive Tagaq morphed, almost unperceptively, into something fearsome and unpredictable. She squatted and moaned like a wounded animal, as she moved from being predator to prey. Initially, it seemed that she was speaking to her inner voices in a language that was fleeting, but we strained to understand. Perhaps there was a code and if we listened hard enough, or long enough, the meaning would become clear. As her body stretched into a sensual arc, she sought to pleasure herself, quivering with a joyful burst that dissolved into a childlike twittering.

Her hands and arms were in nearly constant motion, sometimes frenetic, sometimes beckoning the unseen to come closer. She had my rapt attention. I could not take my eyes off her. At one point she stepped off the platform and like a menacing creature threatened the audience, as if they/we were the source of her pain. And then the energy subsided. It drifted away like smoke, and the performance was over. There was a moment of stunned silence while the audience recouped. Then a standing ovation as Tanya Tagaq left the scene.

In his introduction of Tagaq, Steve MacQueen had mentioned something about experiencing suspended time. I glanced at my watch. The performance had gone on, nonstop, for over an hour. It could have been minutes or days. It was definitely a time and place I had never experienced before, but I would willingly go there again.

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Eiko Otake: Audacious Brilliance

By John Killacky, Flynn Center Executive Director

A preview of Eiko Otake’s upcoming visit to Burlington, during which she will perform A Body in Places at the Moran Plant (May 27) and host a gallery talk of her and William Johnston’s A Body in Fukushima exhibit at the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery (May 23) as well as a Delicious Dance Movement Workshop at the Flynn’s Chase Studio (May 24). Information and tickets are at

Japanese-born Eiko Otake, with her husband Koma, created a dance style that is sculptural, primal, and gorgeous, incorporating elements of stillness, shape, light, and sound with their often-naked bodies that results in movement honed to unadorned sublimity. Time is slowed down to glacial proportions; audiences adjust accordingly.

I first encountered Eiko and Koma’s work 35 years ago in Nurse’s Song, an unwieldly collaboration with Allen Ginsberg’s music set to a poem by William Blake. They romped around the stage as atavistic, celebratory creatures. I was smitten with the chaotic audacity.

Shinmaiko Beach DSC02417 Shinmaiko hama July

While working at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, I invited them in 1989 for a five-week residency to create a new piece, Canal, with four other dancers. They submerged an entire stage under water, all six performed naked on the flooded stage.

In 1993, they returned with two works set to music by Taos Pueblo composer Robert Mirabel, Wind and Land. They performed on a slanted stage covered in feathers. Augmenting the performances, we screened some of Eiko and Koma’s starkly elegiac films.

In 1996, I invited them back to Minnesota to perform River, an outdoor site-specific piece wherein the duo gradually drifts out of view of the audience, ultimately disappearing—leaving the audience to determine when the piece actually ends. (This work was performed here in 1997 on the Winooski River.) River was later adapted for an indoor presentation at Yerba Buena Center with music by Somei Satoh performed live by Kronos Quartet, also on a stage submerged under water.

Another outsized experiment I was witness to at Yerba Buena was Be With (2001), Eiko and Koma’s collaboration with Bay Area dance icon Anna Halprin and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud. The recombinant mix of different aesthetics was exhilarating as full-throttled expressionism abounded, confounding all preconceived notions of the minimalist couple.

Eiko and Koma last performed downstairs in FlynnSpace in 2009. Recently, Eiko began a new chapter, performing solo with site-specific performative explorations. This might be her most radical aesthetic investigations to date. On May 27, Eiko performs outside of the Moran Plant, a post-industrial setting likely to suit the stark beauty of her performance as she responds to the space and explores elements of solitude, gaze, fragility, and intimacy.

In conjunction with Eiko’s performance, the Flynn is hosting a gallery exhibition, A Body in Fukushima, which documents a visit she and William Johnston, photographer and Wesleyan University Professor of Japanese history, made in 2014. The two visited irradiated communities that were evacuated after reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plants suffered massive damage in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami.

Many train stations were destroyed or contaminated by radiation; the buildings crumbled and the tracks became overgrown with dried vines and weeds. By walking into each station and placing her body within, Eiko sought to remember the people and day-to-day lives that passed through the stations and towns before the disaster. “By placing my body in these places,” she says, “I thought of the generations of people who used to live there. I danced so as not to forget.” The profane is made sacred in these quietly alluring photographs. The exhibition runs until May 28.

Sakamoto Summer DSC05965 Sakamoto station July

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Tanya Tagaq: Confronting Ferocity

By Cynthia Close, Burlington Writers Workshop

A preview of Tanya Tagaq, an Inuit throat singer who performs at FlynnSpace Saturday, May 14. Tickets are available online at

Classifying Tanya Tagaq as an Inuit throat singer honors her native heritage but does not even begin to describe the complexity of her artistic achievements. One senses her indigenous Canadian roots are a source of deep strength while fueling an at times overpowering rage that explodes, leaving the audience quaking in her wake.

Tagaq stands out as a unique persona in a sea of cookie cutter fame seekers who are groomed and sanitized to meet some sort of perceived formula of success. Encountering her music for the first time, I felt as though I was listening to the birth of the solar system or, alternatively, the death throes of the natural world as we know it.


Her first album, Sinaa (“edge” in Inukititut) was released in 2005 and includes Ancestors with Björk. It was followed in 2008 by Auk/Blood which won the Best Canadian Aboriginal Music Award and was nominated for two Juno Awards (Canada’s equivalent to the Grammy’s) for Best Instrumental Recording and Best Aboriginal Recording. In 2011, she released anuraaqtuq (wind) recorded live from the May 2010 performance at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. Percussionist Jean Martin along with Jesse Zubot on the violin and viola joined Tanya on this album.

Her latest album, Animism (2014), “seamlessly uses the technology of the digital recording studio to make an encyclopedic argument for the natural world. In fact, it will erase from your mind the notion of human artifice and nature as opposites.”—Geoff  Berner. Animism has garnered extensive critical praise to add to Tanya Tagaq’s long list of much-deserved accolades. The album won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize, based on the “highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation or sales history.”

Watching and listening to Tagaq is like witnessing the transformation—and ultimately transcendence—of a sorceress. It is mystifying, but if you allow yourself to follow her, she will drag you kicking and screaming into a feral world where you will ultimately feel yourself staring into the face of the primal essence of existence. She wields a fearsome power. But she does not do it alone. Her band members may include at any one time, Michael Red, Cris Derksen, Scott Amendola, G.E. Stinson, Jesse Zubot, and Jean Martin. We probably most associate the drum with aboriginal music, but for Tagaq, it is the stringed instruments, violin, and viola that seem to stretch the emotional range of her performance.

Although I have only watched Tagaq on video and heard her recorded voice, I have already become an ardent fan. To see her live in the intimacy that the FlynnSpace affords is an opportunity and a challenge. Confronting such ferocity can be a transformative experience. It can also leave you weak or make you cry. I can assure you; it will not leave you untouched.

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A Little Hair of the Dog for Alonzo King LINES Ballet

By Colleen Ovelman, Burlington Writers Workshop

A review of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, an 11-member troupe that performed May 4 on the MainStage.

It’s been days since I saw Alonzo King LINES Ballet at the Flynn. I’m on a deadline to write the review, but still, nothing. Call it procrastination. Call it deadline obstruction. Call it single working parent life. But really, it might just be a multi-day hangover—I’m slowly awakening from the mesmerization of the show.


I could try to write something technical. Something about the choreographic genius of King, who is something of a modern-day Balanchine. And if I were to do that, I’d liken it to writing. When I teach writing, I tell students that they must first master all of the rules of writing, proper punctuation for appositive phrases, the who/whom conundrum. Once they have mastered these rules, then, and only then, can they break the rules, as long as they are breaking the rules with purpose and intention. Alonzo King and his dancers have mastered the rules and break them most beautifully every time a spine undulates, a foot flexes, and five male dancers perform a glistening quintet of intimacy, their tendons playing like the violin strings of the concerto.

I could try to write about the prowess that is needed to perform in unison to the sound of rain—no eight count or waltzing three count to keep the time. All the lines of time that hold the dancer in place clipped. The technical abilities of the dancers as they performed in Biophony, Bernie Krause and Richard Blackford’s nature soundscape, was brilliant, but writing about that is not the hair of the dog the hangover calls for. I don’t know that I can craft prosaic words for the experience of sitting amongst the whir of cliff swallows and bees and loons with shafts of light through imagined, off-stage rustling leaves igniting the beads of sweat on the dancers’ chests.

I’ve been working on a poem for the last few weeks and obstructing another deadline. But somehow this poem seems to speak to the same feeling that King was exploring with Biophony, the feeling of becoming, of returning to the natural world we often forget we are a part of. A world we want to control but can’t, where the only units of time that matter are those between one Egyptian goose call to the next.

Maybe it’s just a Sunday morning Bloody Mary, but here’s the poem:


There’s a highway close by
but it hardly matters
Through the open window, the bird songs are so thick
the road might as well be a river

Inconsequential to their chirping,
We might as well be leaves
Fleeing and fixed, green flickering.
The cacophony of species
taunts us with the need
to name
to own something
with language

One might say I love you or I’m sorry
One might stay silent
but such divinations
hardly matter

Now, we are nothing but a chemical process
carbon dioxide and water
catalyzed by sunlight
We are edible and sweet,
molecular food and oxygen

When these birds come in early spring
and ignite the afternoon with the primal
throat singing of its infancy
We might think we have made something new
but the equation is as balanced
as it has always been

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Ana Moura: The Heart and Soul of Fado

By Lorraine Ryan, Burlington Writers Workshop

A review of fado singer Ana Moura, who performed on the MainStage Saturday, April 29.

A little over a week ago I had never heard of the Portuguese music called fado or Ana Moura, one of the most popular and highly acclaimed singers of this genre. So I read about the music and the woman while listening to Moura on internet radio and soon felt I possessed a pretty good handle on both.

I was wrong.

Ana Moura is a presence and thus should be seen and listened to on stage. There just is no substitution. Moura glided on stage wearing a black gown that shimmered and hugged and she looked every bit the star that she is. Her voice—voluminous, sensual and mournful—permeated the theater to grab and tug at our souls. She sang looking down, her hair cascading to cover half her face, and her body in profile to the audience, almost as if her words were too heavy, too sorrowful to be shared openly. Her body had its own language, hips swaying, arms that reached out and occasionally a stamp of her foot as if to accentuate her words.

Ana changed the tone a few songs into her set when she faced the theater and smiled. “Good evening, Burlington!” she said amidst cheers and broke into an upbeat number that begged us to dance or clap along.


Like many contemporary fado singers, Moura often sings outside the box, daring to incorporate newer sounds. Many of the songs sung tonight were from her last album, which was produced by Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock) who assisted her in diversifying her music. Her accompanying band was extraordinary with the traditional acoustic fado trio, keyboard and drums. For some of the traditional and mournful songs she used just one guitarist, usually the Portuguese guitar player. When Ana left the stage briefly we were fantastically entertained by the band, each member giving us a solo performance.

Moura returned in the second half of the concert shimmering in white this time and continued to mesmerize. One of her last numbers was the haunting Lilac Wine, most famously sung by Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley.

“Lilac wine is sweet and heady, like my love. Lilac wine, I feel unsteady, like my love,” she sang sweetly but so sadly. Ana dedicated the song to her friend and ardent fan, the late Prince. She pointed to the lilac branch on the screen behind her and told us she’d photographed this very close to his home. “This loss that we’ve all shared,” she said. “It’s been very, very hard these last days.”

“I made wine from the lilac tree. Put my heart in its recipe,” she’d sung.

Ana Moura’s heart and indeed, her soul are entwined in every note and the listener walks away touched and unsteady.

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The Music of Strangers

by John R. Killacky, Flynn Center Executive Director

A preview of a benefit screening for VSO/VYO/Flynn Partnership: The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, Thursday, June 2, 2016 at 7:00 PM, Palace 9 Cinemas: 10 Fayette Drive, South Burlington, VT. Get tickets at

In 2000, acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought more than 50 musicians from around the world to the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts to explore commonalities across diverse cultural traditions and inspire creative collaboration. Instrumentalists, vocalists, composers, arrangers, visual artists, and storytellers from countries along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking Asia, Africa, and Europe, gathered. After 10 days of intensive workshops, 16 new works debuted.

Since then, Yo-Yo Ma has formalized the Silk Road Project with annual tours featuring an ever-changing lineup of master artists. So far, more than 80 works and six albums have been commissioned and performed by the Silk Road Ensemble, a testament to Ma’s belief that “the intersection of cultures is where new things emerge.”

Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom) joined the caravan in 2013 and has created an emotionally rich and textured documentary on Ma’s expansive vision of cultural exchange. Blending performance footage, personal narratives, and archival film, The Music of Strangers demonstrates the role of art during this time of political unrest and upheaval as the cameras follow a small group of the ensemble members coming from China, Iran, Syria, and Spain as they journey to Jordan, Turkey, Spain, and all over the United States.

Some of the traditional musicians are refugees from their home countries, including Iranian Kayhan Kalhor, master of the kamancheh (or Persian spiked fiddle) and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, from Syria. Particularly poignant is Azmeh’s visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan where he conducts workshops with the children living in squalid conditions. “They think there isn’t time for music,” he says. “That’s when most people need music. People need at least one moment of happiness.”

Most affirming is the glorious footage of virtuosic cellist Ma jamming with clarinetists and banjo players alongside masters of the Arabic oud, Chinese pipa, Galician gaita bagpipe, and Persian fiddle, celebrating their common humanity. Ma’s wondrous trans-cultural experiment with the Silk Road Project not only preserves endangered musical traditions, but, equally as important, inspires hope in our fragile and fragmented  world. The uplifting power of music is never more evident than in The Music of Strangers.


Note: This preview screening benefits the Flynn’s ongoing “Link Up” partnership with Vermont Youth Orchestra, Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Institute, aiming to celebrate the magic of orchestral music and inspire schoolchildren to raise their musical voices. Participating schools receive free recorders for each student, and a simple curriculum to prepare children for the highly-interactive concert at the Flynn, wherein VSO and VYO musicians play side by side, and students in the audience play along with the recorders from their seats.  Please join us!

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Navigating the Emotional Spectrum

By Josh McDonald, Burlington Writers Workshop

A review of the Maria Schneider Orchestra’s April 20 performance on the MainStage, which featured the premiere of Bluebird, a new work co-commissioned by the Flynn.

As she prepared to premier her new commissioned work Bluebird, Maria Schneider shared how the title came out of her collaboration with David Bowie. One of the ideas he’d had was for a song he called Bluebird. It eventually took on a completely different name, but that original title stuck with Schneider. And when she began working on this commission for the Flynn Center, she noticed that the yard outside the house she was staying at was filled with bluebirds.

And thus did this bright, cheerful new work gain its title. The song brings to mind the age-old notion of “the bluebird of happiness,” as Frank Kimbrough’s piano twitters and hops and flits its way through the orchestra’s vivid harmonies.


This was followed in stark contrast by another commissioned work—this one for the Library of Congress—which she also attributed in part to her collaboration with Bowie. As they worked together on Bowie’s Sue (Or a Season in Crime), she says, he kept pushing her to “go darker, go darker.” And this darkness found its way into Data Lords, her instrumental meditation on a world in which our art, our music, even our personal information, is routinely mined and stored and sold by Google and its ilk.

These two pieces, coming around the middle of Schneider’s Flynn Center concert, define the light and the dark, and set the two ends of the emotional spectrum her music covers. The rest of the concert shows the range and subtleties she brings to her compositions. On stage she comes across as a natural storyteller. She has a natural warmth and humor as she introduces each piece, speaking about her inspiration, the sensations, the spark that led her to that particular song. From there the music picks up her themes and paints a deep, rich soundscape.

Her The Thompson Fields (the title track of her latest album), which she describes as a return to her Minnesota hometown, has a Coplandesque feel about it as a folksy, American-roots style guitar solo sets the foundation upon which the rest of the orchestra can build its grand, sweeping, and somewhat melancholy vision of a memory of home. And A Potter’s Song, written as a memorial to trumpet player Laurie Frink, weaves together the joys of a good life with the ache of a lost friend into a moving and haunting tribute.

A highlight of the performance was her song Arbiters of Evolution. Inspired by videos of the elaborate and flamboyant mating displays of birds-of-paradise, she presented a rousing, energetic piece designed to let her musicians and featured soloists really strut their stuff. For an evening of music that ran the full spectrum of emotional hues, this bright and vivid number was a perfect send-off.

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Ballet: For Our Human and Animal Selves

By Colleen Ovelman, Burlington Writers Workshop

A preview of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, performing Wednesday, May 4 on the Flynn MainStage at 7:30. More information and tickets are available online at

Lately, I’ve found myself reading war stories and poetry and ruminating on what it is to be human. I’ve been thinking about grief and how only music and art can cut into the center of it and hold it the way it needs to be held.

Then yesterday, I saw the first golden shoots of forsythia, that most bright and brief harbinger of spring, and I instantly felt human and alive in a way that I hadn’t for some cold, foggy days.

Ballet is like that too. A connection to what makes us human. From the line of the outturned toe to the far reaches of the finger tip, there is a coiling tension between form and collapse, between beauty and pain. It is the mirage of the effortless impossible that reminds us of the mundane impossible that we somehow plow through each day. Sadness and sorrow and stress, and dishes and bills and laundry and schedules, and joy and absurdity and the very weight of gravity upon us. It is a dance. Navigating, pirouetting, sashaying around others. Together. Apart. Together.

Alonzo King, artistic director of the San Francisco contemporary ballet company LINES, skews the boundaries of traditional ballet by incorporating cultural traditions, movements, music, and styles outside the lineage of Western ballet. In their upcoming work at the Flynn Center, LINES Ballet will perform Biophony with sound design and music by Bernie Krause and Richard Blackford. The soundscape includes recordings from nature. Whale songs. Tree frogs chirping. In a way, this performance is poised to remind us not just that we are human, but that we are animal as well. Think Darwin and the evolution of species.


I was working on biology homework with one of my teenagers this weekend. We were looking at the bone structure of bat wings and whale fins and human arms and hands. Phalanges and metacarpals. The same pattern in the wing, in the fin, in the hand, adapted over time for flying and swimming and port de bras (or chopping wood or hunting or carrying babies/lifting lovers or dancers high above one’s head). The same bones, stretched over time, to meet the needs of their bodies.

We share eighty percent of our DNA with whales, that dancing double helix of our animal nature. Of our needs and desires. A spinning double helix, like the sinews, the tendons and ligaments in the ankle that hold the outturned foot and spin all the way up to the hip joint. Like soutenus across the floor. Like turning gracefully in the cold dark sea.

I am reminded of the final lines of Carrie Fountain’s poem “Late Summer,”

“Because for some lucky animals

the space between the body

and what it wants

is all there is.”

As Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet performs Biophony on May 4 at the Flynn, let us linger in that space between the body and what it wants. Let us feel what it is to be both human and animal.

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Ana Moura: Destiny’s Voice

By Lorraine Ryan, Burlington Writers Workshop

A preview of Ana Moura’s Friday, April 29 performance on the Flynn MainStage. Tickets and information are available online via FlynnTix.

Sold out performances are typical for Portugal’s wildly popular fado singer Ana Moura and her future appears to be moving only upwards in a genre of music that is dominated by women. Fado (sometimes explained as Portugal’s answer to the blues) means “fate” and fate certainly brought this sensual singer to the pinnacle of success.

“We have this saying in Portugal: you have to be born a fado singer, it’s not something you just learn,” Moura said.

Born in 1979 into a family of musicians where everybody sang and any family reunion would end up in a celebration in the form of music, Ana’s voice turned into song by age four. At six, she sang fado in public for the first time.

“Things in my life just happen,” she said.

Fate indeed was a constant companion in Ana’s life, but at a young age, she already knew the foundation she needed to build her life in music. At 14, she enrolled in Academia dos Amadores de Musica in Lisbon, starting her first band with some high school friends. Although she had shelved fado for the music of her peers, rock and mainstream pop, her voice soon developed a natural fado tone. Eventually, fado found its way back into her repertoire.


At 16, her recording career officially began when a well-known producer heard her audition and chose her to record a pop-rock album which was never finished or released. But here is where destiny stepped in and “guided” Ana to a Carcavelos bar where she sang a fado song. She so impressed the fadistas that invitations to sing at fado houses began tumbling in and led her to a Lisbon fado house, Senhor Vinho, where she ended up meeting the guitarist and composer Jorge Fernando, who later produced Moura’s debut album in 2003.

Staying with the traditional essence of fado, which has been around for nearly two centuries, the album was enthusiastically accepted by both the public and critics alike. Her second album, Aconteceu, released in 2004, showcased Moura’s ability to blend traditional fado with her personal contemporary expression.

“We all have one thing in common, and that is the desire to renew the fado,” Moura said. “This curiosity of young people for the fado is all very recent, and I think it can best be explained by this new approach to an old music that all of us have adopted.”

Moura’s intangible quality—her passion and soul, vital to fado and other emotional musical styles—was recognized by other musicians. In 2007 she was invited to record two songs with The Rolling Stones, “No Expectations” (now treated as a classic pained fado lament) and “Brown Sugar” for the Rolling Stones Project Vol.2. She caught the attention of the late iconic musician Prince, who’d found her music on the internet, traveled to Paris to see her, and then invited her to come and improvise with his band in Minneapolis.

Ana Moura’s vocal presence personifies the passionate credo of Fado music: low-pitched sensuality and emotional depth. It pierces the soul and the audience is hers.

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Alonzo King: Transfigured Beauty

By John Killacky, Executive Director of the Flynn Center

A preview of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, performing Wednesday, May 4 on the Flynn MainStage at 7:30. More information and tickets are available here

Alonzo King is an anomaly, an outlier in the ballet world: African-American and based in San Francisco, with a truly multicultural company of exquisite dancers. Against all odds, his artistry flourished.

He has created prolific dances for his own company, LINES Ballet, since 1982. The ensemble regularly tours nationally and in Europe. His dances are also in the repertories of Swedish Royal Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet, Ballet Bejart, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Joffrey Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Hong Kong Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

His choreography, grounded in a rigorous classical technique, challenges dancers to careen wildly off-center with legs akimbo; other times they round and spiral into the floor—unfamiliar terrain for balletomanes. Sharp, jagged jabs punctuate the stage space, juxtaposed with a softness and organic lyricism.


There is a profound humanism in Alonzo’s work as he collaborates with composers, musicians, and visual artists from around the world. While I ran Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, we received a grant for Alonzo to travel to the Ituri Rain Forest in the Central African Republic. What resulted was an astoundingly resplendent work, People of the Forest (2001), integrating the petite Baka musicians and dancers with his long-limbed dancers.

Another project, Long River High Sky (2007), seamlessly featured his statuesque balletic dancers alongside the deeply-grounded martial arts trained Shaolin Monks from China. Both these works could have been egregious cultural appropriation if in the hands of a lesser artist. He welcomed these African and Chinese artists in as collaborators, and together they developed movement patterns authentic to all.

Alonzo’s musical tastes are quite eclectic—commissioning scores from Pharaoh Sanders, Hamza al Din, Jason Morn, and Zakir Hussain, but also choreographing to Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Bach, and Handel with Mickey Hart and Etta James thrown in. Last fall, I was in San Francisco and saw the world-premiere of The Propelled Heart, his new work with rock singer Lisa Fisher (who sang on the Flynn’s Mainstage in September). It was a thrilling evening of sensual kineticism and vocal pyrotechnics.

For the upcoming performance on May 4, LINES Ballet performs Biophony with sound design and music by Bernie Krause and Richard Blackford. Pioneering soundscape artist Krause records and archives the sounds of creatures and environments world-wide, creating what he calls “biophonies.” These sonic environments promise to encapsulate and enhance the flawless technique of Alonzo’s virtuosic dancers in an evening of transfigured beauty. Augmenting the program is Concerto for Two Violins with music by Bach and Men’s Quintet with music by Edgar Meyer and Pharoah Sanders.

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