Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet is turning 25. My story for this Sunday’s Chronicle:

“Alonzo King motions to the pianist to cut the music, then steps to the center of a musty Market Street studio.

“I am not limited,” he says in a soft but strident voice. “Get that in your head! I am not a victim of habit.”

Two dozen sweaty dancers stare as King gathers the fingers of his right hand and draws them in front of his face, down his broad, thick chest, toward his heart.

“You’re not living in the moment,” he says. “How do you make new what you are going to do with the rest of your life? This is huge!”

The room is motionless.

“If any of you are in relationships, which you are – with yourself, with your art …”
King’s enormous, curly-lashed eyes flutter wide.

“You want to be what?”

Heads nod, and King throws his long arms open.

“A galaxy!”

Is this a ballet class or a spiritual-improvement seminar?

Technically, this is daily practice for the students of the Lines Ballet Ensemble and Training Program, a school for serious teenagers drawn to King and his demanding teaching style as well as to the sleek, sculpted beauty of his company, Lines Ballet.

But as always with King, the physical is the vehicle to the transcendent.

“Line, circle, cross,” he says after class, pausing in the middle of a hasty lunch of a ham sandwich and some chocolate truffles to make classical ballet shapes with his arms. “That means horizon, sun, crucifix.”

He takes the fifth position en bas, arms rounded low.

“This has to be the sun. It’s radiance from that inner world. Not fake, not playing at ballet.”

He sits in his office on the third floor of Lines’ bustling San Francisco Dance Center at Seventh and Market streets in San Francisco, where his nine-member troupe rehearses, and where every month more than 800 students take classes in everything from hip-hop to flamenco. On King’s desk sits a framed portrait of Paramahansa Yogananda, whose “Autobiography of a Yogi” serves as King’s constant inspiration. On the other side of a locked door are the administrative offices of Lines Ballet, the company King founded, along with two die-hard believers in his artistic gifts, 25 years ago.

The changes that quarter century have brought are astonishing: Lines is now internationally renowned, touring Europe yearly, dancing two home seasons annually at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and offering a bachelor of fine arts degree through Dominican University of California in San Rafael.

King’s style, so nascent 25 years ago, is now fully formed and instantly recognizable: classical, yet tangled and twisted, exquisitely weird shapes melting into vulnerable human gestures. He’s worked with a dazzling list of musical collaborators, from saxophone master Pharoah Sanders to a tribe of Pygmies from the African rain forest, and has created works for such companies as the Frankfurt Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His troupe is one of the great successes of the San Francisco dance scene, and one of its greatest anchors.

But King doesn’t dwell on all that, except to say that “those 25 years passed like a blink of the eye” and “the work has just gotten deeper.”

He doesn’t have time to revel in past glories.

Lines’ silver anniversary season, opening Friday, will present two new King ballets – one set to Baroque music and featuring live musicians from the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the other to a new score by Zakir Hussain, to be played by the tabla master.”

Click here for the full story.

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