Monday, April 16, 2007

Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet

Alonzo King is a gifted choreographer. His innovative and sophisticated works are performed by ballet companies internationally, but his passion is LINES, the Bay Area company he founded in 1982. LINES has an extensive touring schedule and a repertoire of groundbreaking work, and this Spring they add to it with a collaboration with the Shaolin Monks of San Francisco.

In Collaboration premiered this Friday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and performances continue Wednesday April 18 through Sunday April 22 (tickets). I was fortunate to see a preview as part of a fundraiser for LINES and I was stunned by the integration of these very different art forms.

The Shaolin Foundation in San Francisco is the only sanctioned monastery and school outside of China. Its monks study Chan Buddhism and wushu, the martial art developed in the 6th century at the Shaolin Temple on Songshan Mountain. The San Francisco group is quite extraordinary, and its members include:

Master Shi YongYao, the Temple’s 70 year old Qi Gong master and expert in the “metal finger” technique;

Master Shi GuoSong, a 1998 Gold Medalist in the World Wushu Tournament and a leading practicioner of the non-contact Shaolin Boxing;

Shi ChangQiang (pictured above with Brett Conway), a young and very accomplished student expert in Seven Star Boxing and the Nine Jointed Whip;

Shi ChangJun, a master master of Red Boxing and Spring-Autumn sword. Like Shi ChangeQiang, ChangJun is in his 20s (
read interview);

and, the delightful 10 year-old triplets: Shi LongHu, Shi HuHu, and Shi BaoHu.

Alonzo has choreographed a cultural exchange. The monks and the dancers have very different backgrounds but they share an amazing command of physicality and in interest in each other’s disciplines. During In Collaboration, this exchange plays out in fantastic demonstrations of martial arts and modern dance as the monks teach wushu and learn about the West in return.

Adding the appeal of this unique performance is a beautiful score played on traditional Chinese instruments. For the fundraiser, Musical Director Hong Wang enchanted us with stunning melodies on the erhu, the bawu and the ma tou qin. For the full performances, Hong is joined by Sheshen Zhang and Wanpeng Guo.

Photography by Marty Sohl