The Following Monk Project sprawled on in Duke’s Reynolds Theater with the appearance of the San Francisco contemporary ballet company Alonzo King's LINES. The connection to Monk is one of attitude and approach — Monk's music was not involved.
LINES is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and you can see that maturity in the superb dancing of King's thrilling choreography. But think about listening to Monk — doesn't it all sound brand-new every time? King's dances have that exploratory, adventuring quality that makes them like Monk's tunes. You notice the spaces between the bodies, the pauses in the motion, as well as the surprising steps and turns. The air becomes palpable as his dancers press it outward or swirl it around themselves. King is adept at both sculpting and patterning with his dancers, and — like Monk — makes strangely beautiful figures oddly angled, torqued and tilted, cantilevered into moments of gorgeous asymmetrical balance.
The program opened with Following the Subtle Current Upstream, from 2000, set to music by Zakir Hussain, Miguel Frasconi and Miriam Makeba. It began with a trio for men, then three solos, followed by a duet and a finale by the company, and it was mesmerizing from the start. The women were on pointe, and Meredith Webster was particularly notable for her crisp footwork. This fall she will become the fifth company dancer to win the Princess Grace Award.
The other work performed was The MOROCCAN Project, from 2005, set to a mystical, hypnotic commissioned score by Yassir Chadley, Bouchaib Abdelhadi and Hafida Ghanim. This is a 16-part work that flows and reverses like a tide or perhaps moving dunes. The individual dances were beautiful and intriguing and memorable, but the greater power was in the surge and flow through the scenes.
Still, I did particularly note section XIII, for one woman and four men, because it related so closely to part of King's ballet Salt, which he set on the North Carolina Dance Theatre during the same period he was making this work. Here the four men, backs to us, form a wall before the woman, which she struggles to break through. When she finally succeeds in pushing them down, they just get up and make a new wall. In Salt, the dance is a female solo, and the other dancers are hidden by the actual walls they hold up.
LINES has another North Carolina connection. Company dancer Ashley Jackson was born in High Point, studied at the NC School of the Arts, and has danced for the NC Dance Theatre's second company. She was particularly notable in her duets with Ricardo Zayas. Let's hope that this return to the state will not be her only one, like Monk's famous 1970 date at Raleigh's Frog and Nightgown jazz club was his.
My companion for this evening of blood-racing ballet was a young woman, a scientist, who'd never been to any kind of dance before. As the lights came up, I looked over and saw her mouth ajar and a stunned look on her face that said her world had just gotten bigger, a lot bigger, and it was amazing. I had to agree. As much as a person can rag on Duke for any number of things, when Duke gives us something like the far-reaching arts of the Monk Project, we can see that it is still, praise be, a "universe city."