Alonzo King's Dust and Light starts with a soloist crouched in a pool of light. Still squatting, she rises on pointe, then stretches one leg out. The balance is difficult, but it's also cramped. King rarely lets his sleek dancers move at full stretch, keeping them knotted up in overcomplicated moves.
Founded in 1982, Alonzo King Lines Ballet is a contemporary ballet company based in San Francisco. King has a history of collaborative projects, working with artists from actor Danny Glover to the monks of the Shaolin temple.
The performance style is glossy. In Dust and Light, King puts his dancers in spotlights, twists them and folds them, frames them with music by Poulenc and Corelli. There's little contrast between his dances to baroque and to 20th-century music. Both have tangled partnering. Male solos have more expansive steps, the men throwing back their heads in body beautiful poses. The women's pointe work is often tortuous.
I don't think King means to stress the effort in his choreography, though he keeps turning steps back on themselves. A woman half-hops onto her partner's back, then slithers off again. There's no sense of human frailty in her aborted climb, let alone comedy: the rapt music and solemn atmosphere suggest that everyone is being very inspired.
Rasa, to music played live by award-winning tabla player Zakir Hussain, starts in a similar vein. There are more spotlights, more solemnity. There are hints of Indian classical dance in some of the poses, limbs carefully arranged, fingers pinching the air. We see glimpses of Robert Rossenwasser's backdrop, a red-lit, crumpled surface that looks like a mountain range.
The work does gain energy. King stops winding his dancers around each other and finally lets them dance, with big jumps and fast turns. The dancers pounce on this opportunity, finally allowed to let rip.