April 20, 2007
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Most likely, when you think of ballet, you don’t automatically think kung fu. Or monks. Or young boys performing front headsprings (yes, head, not hand) across a stage. But thanks to Alonzo King’s creative wit, that’s exactly what we got with Lines Ballet’s collaboration with San Francisco’s localized Shaolin Monks. This evening (rumored to be titled “Long River High Sky” yet not listed as such anywhere in the materials) combined King’s distinctive contemporary choreography with the Monks’ kung fu, tai chi, gymnastics, and overall calming presence, and what began as a ballet vs. monk dichotomy ended with a common understanding that both performance styles and beliefs held beauty and strength in high regards.
Surprisingly, a third “performance style” emerged quietly yet powerfully through the work: that of the musicians. Hong Wang, Wanpeng Guo, and Shenshen Zhang of Melody of China harmoniously accompanied the performers using 15 different instruments (banhu, dizi, and concert sheng to name a few). At times, I found my mind drifting off listening to the music, harmonious and serene at times and quickly beating at others.
While the program spanned a lot of ground throughout the two halves and its 29 sections, the fusion we all expected never quite took flight. Many times, the monks looked like props to the Lines dancers and vice versa, and the two forms never quite developed a visually pleasing balance. I expected something more than the mishmash of form against form: a newly codified movement style or editing to create more “common ground,” perhaps. But even with these issues, the program envelopes your senses and mind with images of what might be possible with a little bit of artistic effort and imagination (except that of monks in arabesque).