What is Alonzo King’s ‘Deep River’ ?

Dance · Music

It’s a rare circumstance that we in Southern California have two viewing possibilities of an artistic-and-timely, multi-disciplinary work uniting a top-notch dance company with jazz artists, also of the highest caliber. Deep River by the San Francisco-based Alonzo King LINES Ballet features a score by jazz pianist, composer, and MacArthur Fellow Jason Moran, and in one presentation, a live performance by GRAMMY Award winning vocalist Lisa Fischer. Created in celebration of LINES Ballet’s 40th anniversary season, the work is King’s second collaboration with Fischer and his ninth collaboration with Moran.

Deep River will be on presented at the sizeable stage and equally roomy and comfortable Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa (that is where we last saw the company and reviewed it here). Two weeks after Segerstrom, LINES brings it in two dates at the relatively intimate Bram Goldsmith Theater of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts in Beverly Hills. So take your choice. We attend both houses.

In reviews, Deep River appears to be a knockout performance. Let’s break it into its components.

The force behind Deep River is Alonzo King. He is the company co-founder, artistic director, and visionary overseer of a tribe of spectacular amazing long-legged hyper-extended wonders of LINES Ballet. King has altered how we look at ballet — calling his works “thought structures” created by the manipulation of energies that exist in matter through laws, which govern shapes and movement directions. Named as a choreographer with “astonishing originality” by The New York Times, Alonzo King LINES Ballet has been guided by his unique artistic vision since 1982.

You know Lisa Fisher. You saw her in the Oscar-winning documentary Forty Feet from Stardom. She is the longtime background singer for icons like Luther Vandross, The Rolling Stones, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, and Nine Inch Nails. While Lisa’s range is legendary, her greatest gift is the ability to connect, to reach the hearts of her listeners. Raised in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, she emerged from New York’s fervent studio scene in the early 1980s, sang for two decades with legendary vocalist Luther Vandross, and released “So Intense”, earning her first Best R&B Performance Grammy with “How Can I Ease The Pain”. She joined the Rolling Stones for their 1989 Steel Wheels tour, and continued to grace their stage for the next 26 years. It goes on and one — collaborations with jazz artists, personages of theater, and multiple symphony orchestras. Fisher will appear in person at The Wallis; and by recording at Segerstrom.

You know Jason Moran, the ubiquitous jazz pianist, composer, and performance artist born in Houston, TX, in 1975 and earned a degree from the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Jaki Byard. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010 and is the Artistic Director for Jazz at The Kennedy Center. Moran currently teaches at the New England Conservatory. The Moran score is augmented in this show by with Black and Jewish spiritual music and selections by Pharoah Sanders and Maurice Ravel.

Have you seen LINES? You should! According to Alonzo King, his company’s name “alludes to all that is visible in the phenomenal world. There is nothing that is made or formed without a line. Lines are in our fingerprints, the shapes of our bodies, constellations, geometry. It implies genealogical connection, progeny and spoken word. It addresses direction, communication, and design. A line of thought. A boundary or eternity. A melodic line. From vibration or dot to dot it is the visible organization of what we see.”

More from Alonzo King here: “People think ballet is a style, and it is the way some people do it, but people don’t understand that ballet is really a science of movement. We’re paring things down, the mannerisms and the froufrou, saying, let’s examine what are the origins of this movement and where is it replicated in nature.”

What is Deep River?

Alas, no easy answer here — you’ll have to show up at The Wallis or the Segerstrom Center and find out for yourself. But guiding you, or intriguing, you may be this cogent description from the presenter:

Deep River is a call to keep hope and to look at each other as a family of souls. The moving work melds dance with Black spirituals and invites audiences to look at human beings as the pinnacle of creation. King says that the work is a reminder that “love is the ocean that we rose from, swim in, and will one day return to — and that love can set us free.”

Deep River | Alonzo King LINES Ballet | Segerstrom Center | May 27
Deep River | Alonzo King LINES Ballet | The Wallis | June 9 & 10

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