Ballet inspired by Sephardic music designed to transport audience

The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, 777 Homer

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 84 minutes

Tickets: $50 to $70 through the Vancouver International Dance Festival at or 604-662-4966.

VANCOUVER — On the other end of the line Alonzo King was talking to me about Sephardic music, something I knew nothing about.

To create the work Resin, King worked with Francesco Spagnolo, an expert in the music of the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Spagnolo, King said, was one of those brilliant scholars who is the head of collections at a major Jewish library and archive at the University of California, Berkeley. For the work’s soundscape, he was able to supply King with unique source material from rare field recordings, Judeo-Spanish songs and new music from Israel.

The interview with King, who was in San Francisco, was going along at its usual pace. I was asking a few questions about one of the works his company will perform to open the Vancouver International Dance Festival on Friday.

Then I asked one question that sent the interview in quite another direction: “Is it a narrative piece?”

King responded immediately.

“One of the reasons that I find these kinds of questions difficult is that a person has to come and experience the work,” he said.

This led King into a philosophical discussion about writing about dance and about how words are a poor substitute for describing the experience of attending a dance performance.

While a writer uses words to give some colour and sense of a performance, King believes language touches only on the surface and doesn’t go into its deep structure or essence.

“We have to come to art like we’re meeting it for the first time,” King said.

“When it comes to description, how do you do that? In some ways, you’re losing when you start. Words are too clumsy. Music, art, painting — you’re going for worlds where words don’t work. To have to say that ‘This is what it is’ is kind of false.”

For King, words get in between the art and the person experiencing it. He compared it to trying to describe orange juice. It can’t be explained — it can only be tasted. So it is with dance: It can’t be reduced to words but only experienced in person.

“If we go to a sunset, some will see circle and straight line and then the circle turns into a half dome and then an equal sign as it levels into the Equator. They’re only looking at form and structure. Other people will see colour, others metaphor. Others, ‘What’s the big deal? I don’t get it.’

“And so every single person has to plug into whether the performer, the music, the feeling they’re in at the moment. Whether it is a negative or positive mood and how they’re able to absorb — all of that affects what they see and hear. Their idea of beauty and truth can either liberate or limit your ability to see.”

I told King he was right. I always start out from the position that words can in no way come close to recreating the experience of watching a dance performance. Words have their own way of dancing. If they’re arranged in the right way, they can do what they’re good at: telling a story about a choreographer or a performance.

During our conversation, I said that my best experiences watching dance have occurred when I’ve identified with the dancers on stage. When that magical experience of kinesthetic empathy occurs, I know I’ve experienced something unique.

King believes those moments happen when I’ve recognized the structure of what I’m seeing even if I don’t fully understand the details of what’s going on.

“As a kid, it seemed to me that how people moved and the way they held their body was more truthful most of the time than what came out of their mouths,” he said.

“That became a way of reading and assessing character and a way of communicating ideas. My main point is that everybody is looking behind appearance. Everyone is some kind of artist – or should be, whether they know it or not.”

King said when people go to watch the two works he’s created for his company, they’ll be seeing what he calls the results of his investigations into the fundamental essence of dance.

“Where do you have the luxury in our crazy, over-busy, frantic lifestyles to have people sit down for an hour and a half in the dark and not move? You can’t give them nonsense. You have to speak to them in a deep and compelling way,” he said.

“Who wants to leave work, take a shower, and not go somewhere? You don’t want to be bored. You want to be transported.”

In addition to Resin, the company will be performing Scheherazade. Music for that work is composed by Zakir Hussain based on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s original score.
(Tags: Dance, Entertainment, Inquisition)


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