American Ballet Theatre (ABT) returns to Orange County Wednesday with “ABT Forward,” a mixed repertory program featuring choreography by Jessica Lang and ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky. The program also includes a world premiere piece by Alonzo King – his first for ABT. 

And although it’s a first, it’s also a circling back for King, whose path crossed with ABT in years past by way of a summer intensive he attended as a young dancer and through his coaching of ABT principal dancer Natalia Makarova.

King said he is honored and excited ABT artistic director Kevin Mackenzie invited him to set a work on the company this season.

Alonzo King, founder and artistic director of Alonzo King Lines Ballet, makes his choreographic debut for American Ballet Theatre with a world premiere piece. Credit: Photo courtesy of Alonzo King Lines Ballet

“I feel so fortunate,” King said. “Can you imagine? You’re doing what you love to do. That’s really not the case for most people on planet Earth … most people don’t get to elect what they’re going to do and then do it. It’s a real privilege and I don’t take it lightly.”

Since founding Alonzo King Lines Ballet in 1982, King has often made work about what unites us as human beings: empathy, joy, the ability to transcend, and now, peace.

“The theme is really to be a peacemaker,” King said in a video posted on ABT’s Instagram last month. “How to not close the heart during difficult times. How to realize that you are not a weak whining mortal, but there is indomitable strength and endless creativity inside the package.”

King’s piece features 30 company dancers and although the company is esteemed for its technical execution, the process is first and foremost about collaboration. For King, it is about exploring the ideas and experiences of the artists in the room.

“This is a collaboration. Your experience up until this point in your life should be part of your singing, of your molding, your sculpting,” King said. “And it is always about the idea first and then you grapple with technique to make the idea clear.”

Adji Cissoko from Alonzo King Lines Ballet. Credit: Photo courtesy of Alonzo King Lines Ballet/ RJ Muna

King’s idea for the new work for ABT came out of a conversation with the composer of the piece, jazz pianist Jason Moran, about needing more peacemakers. A look at the news in recent days brings more urgency to this observation. 

“The ‘us’ versus ‘them’ divider is such a silly little trick, but it works every time,” King said about the different sides of civil and political battles.

“People are fooled if we think between human beings there is diversity. We are crazy. There is no diversity. You want real diversity? Go to the bottom of the ocean. The creatures there are truly mind-boggling.”

“But skin color?” King continued. “It’s one of the deepest ignorances. War, religious sectarianism, ecological destruction, racism and unbridled materialism.”

ABT Forward

When: March 16-19
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Tickets: Start at $39
Information: scfta.org or (714) 556-2787

Audiences will have the opportunity to explore this idea of peace with King and the ABT dancers on stage from March 16-19. No words, just movement, and authentic human energy. 

“These are beautiful dancers and we are all working hard, but premieres, they always make you a little nervous,” King said. “I find myself asking is this true? Or rather, is the essence of the idea accurate? Something is considered ‘well-made’ if it has truth, and if it was food it has nutrition.” 

King’s choreography for ABT will be a return to the Center for the Northern California artist whose company performed at Segerstrom last September. 

Judy Morr, executive vice president for Segerstrom Center for the Arts, said, “Alonzo King is a great American choreographer. His work is unique – a ‘must see’ for anyone who loves dance.  His choreography is balletic, contemporary, athletic, creative, and always beautiful. If you come once, you will want to come again.”

In addition to King’s yet-to-be-titled work, ABT will perform Lang’s “ZigZag,” which celebrates the legendary career of Tony Bennett, and Ratmansky’s “Bernstein in a Bubble,” set to Leonard Bernstein’s “Divertimento,” and performed live by Orange County’s Pacific Symphony.

In a press statement, American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie said, “This is an opportunity to see work by three contemporary masters of their craft. A classic taste in music and dance vocabulary (Leonard Bernstein/Alexei Ratmansky) is complemented by the iconic American voice of Tony Bennett and Jessica Lang’s fun and whimsical movement, followed by a world premiere from Alonzo King …. Literally, this will be American artists reflecting America through the lens of inventive genius.”

The varied repertoire planned for Orange County audiences shows the breadth and depth of the company and illustrates that dance is about endless exploration.

Kaitlin Wright is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at kaitline13@gmail.com.


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