30 years and 1,000 points of light at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Courtesy PhotoGlowing premiere: Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet celebrates its 30th season with a new piece featuring contributions from visual artist Jim Campbell

In a testament to choreographer Alonzo King’s longevity and relevance, LINES Ballet inaugurates its 30th home season with a luminous premiere at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Friday.

King collaborated with Jim Campbell, a Silicon Valley electrical engineer turned visual artist who developed a recent San Francisco Museum of Modern Art installation displaying changing images of LINES’ dancers reproduced with hundreds of LED lights.

“I’ve been working with low-resolution light,” Campbell says. “It’s at the borderline of what you think you perceive and what’s actually there.”

In this piece, Campbell suspends 700 full-color LED lights on individual strands to establish a 20-foot-by-40-foot backdrop image through which the dancers move.

“An additional 300 spheres are held by the dancers. The intensity is controlled through a wireless system,” Campbell explains.

In his decades of dance-making, King — drawing on influences from such diverse partners as the Baka Artists of Central Africa and Chinese Shaolin monks, and musicians of every genre from jazz to classical Indian — has produced some of the century’s most thought-provoking contemporary ballet choreography.

Although known for stunning visuals, his work is subordinate to a larger goal. He says, “My aim is to initiate dialogue, to offer ideas on universal truths that will resonate with people, one being that love is a tremendous force; the fact that there is forgiveness and courage.”

On Oct. 22, King will be honored by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society with its Living Treasure Award for his historic contribution to the cultural fabric of San Francisco.

A week before the premiere, the piece — which features accompaniment by Israeli mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani — hadn’t yet been titled. King, comfortable with that ambiguity, says, “That’s more the reality of life. It would be like naming the baby before it’s born.”

And in a comment that could also reflect the bond he has forged with LINES’ ardent fans, he adds, “Often, when you first meet someone you’re not completely relaxed. It takes time.”

Sustaining a ballet company is difficult under the best of circumstances.

“There were times I thought things were overwhelming. But obstacles often bring forth a latent power that otherwise wouldn’t have been tapped,” he says. “In an environment where you have friends, colleagues who support you, you look up from your own work and see all these bright lights that are working as hard as you. They’re very inspiring.”

Perhaps this piece pays homage to all those bright lights and is evidence of his own.

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