Lines Ballet director Alonzo King explains how his troupe came to collaborate with the Shaolin monks on “Long River High,” a production that returns for a second year beginning Wednesday.
He says: “An acquaintance brought the monks by our studio, we traded some movements and that was it, I canceled the project I had planned and said, I want to work on this. The bottom line is that they are beautiful movers.”
“Both ballet and Chinese martial arts are classical forms, in which the shape of bodies in motion can be meaningful, even spiritual,” adds King. “Shaolin is not about the superficial movie versions of kung fu and ballet is not what someone is physically able to do to wow an audience.”
Both disciplines, he says, “are really about internal work and internal strength — the whole point of the monks learning the yoga-derived exercises that became the foundation of Shaolin in the fifth century BCE was to strengthen their ability to meditate and hold the meditation poses.”
A meditative martial arts discipline seems a natural match for a choreographer who has been a member of the raja yoga Self Realization Fellowship for more than three decades, and who has been known to instruct his dancers, “I want to see you become the arabesque instead of doing it.”
The Shaolin monks’ emphasis on simple, thoughtful living, rather than prohibitions or hierarchies, meshes well with King’s holistic world view. “I didn’t know about their no-hierarachies idea,” he recalls, “but the moment I saw them move, I knew it then.”
Egalitarianism has been a constant in King’s life, as he grew up in a family of prominent civil rights activists. “I was seeing people who were really standing in the middle of their truth,” he says. “They were living what they preached, pursuing an idea they would give their lives for.”
His consequent to authenticity, to “what is real, what is connected” as expressed in his art has earned him numerous major dance awards and fellowships.
He also credits his early exposure to many different cultures as influences for Lines’ many pioneering musical collaborations with artists including Rita Sahai, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Hamza El Din. Live music for “Long River High” will be provided by local Chinese music ensemble Melody of China.
“I never think about what people should take away from a performance,” King says, “but just like being in nature or meeting people for the first time, I hope for receptivity. If you allow yourself to feel, not getting all cerebral right away, allow yourself to tap into your own creativity in the seat, something will happen.”
IF YOU GO
Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $15 to $65
Contact: (415) 978-2787 or www.linesballet.org