By Ryan Pepper
On November 16, world-renowned LINES Ballet is bringing the latest creation of esteemed choreographer Alonzo King to the National Arts Centre for a performance well outside the bounds of what most people expect from a ballet.
Most people’s perception of ballet tends to skew towards classical pieces like The Nutcracker or Giselle—that is to say, white and European. But ballet by no means arose in a Europeans vacuum, says King, and his own new piece abandons Western art music in favour of Indian instrumentation and inspiration.
In short, the show combines the movements and techniques of Western classical dance with the music of Indian classicism.
For Sutra, King collaborated with Indian musicians Zakir Hussain and Sabir Khan, who both play a variety of instruments and sing. Hussain and King have collaborated several times before, always to praise.
“It was their mastery that I was interested in,” King said in an email. “Sabir Khan comes from nine generations of musicians, and Zakir’s father was the supreme master of tabla.”
In a nutshell history of ballet, King points out that there has always been an exchange of ideas between western and eastern dance. The arabesque, a very popular ballet move, gets its name from the Moors, for instance. So, while to the casual viewer an Indian-inspired ballet may seem unusual or brand-new, that type of exchange between cultures is what created modern ballet, and much of Western art, in the first place.
The inter-exchange of ideas on all levels happened more often than present day history acknowledges.
“The influence of Turkish marches, tales of Scheherazade all point to eastern influence on the west,” King said via email. “When Debussy was drawn toward symbolism and impressionism, his exposure to an Indonesian Gamelan during the 1889 International Exhibition in Paris was pivotal in forming his new musical concepts. The Asian elements in Mussorgsky, or Weber’s adaption of Asian melodies in Turandot and Oberon. Puccini heard a Chinese music box and decided to make “Jasmine Flower” a central motif of his final opera.”
“The inter-exchange of ideas on all levels happened more often than present day history acknowledges,” King added.
This is the second time LINES Ballet has performed at the NAC, though the San Francisco-based troupe often performs in Canada. Cathy Levy, the NAC Dance Executive Producer, reached out to the group about performing this season, explained LINES Creative Director and co-founder Robert Rosenwasser.
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“It’s an honor for us to perform at NAC. It’s a beautiful theater,” said Rosenwasser in an email. “Generally touring in Canada is great.”
This year is also a landmark for LINES, as they celebrate their 35th year with three new world premieres: Sutra with Khan and Hussain, Common Ground with the Kronos Quartet, and The Collective Agreement with a score by Jason Moran.