For the past three weeks, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, now led by Glenn Edgerton, have been in rehearsal in the dance studios at UCI. King is making a new piece for both companies. This is an unprecedented, and to my mind, potentially very exciting collaboration. King’s still-untitled ballet will have its premiere in Berkeley in February and the two companies will perform it, plus their own singular repertory, June 21-23, 2013 at the LA Music Center.  (Read my previous post about the Music Center’s 2012-2013 dance series.)

Before returning to their homes in San Francisco and the Windy City, respectively, they gave an informal showing of this work-in-progress at UCI’s Claire Trevor Theatre Friday and Saturday (tonight, Sept. 15). Afterward, King and Edgerton came out onstage and took questions from the audience, moderated by Jodie Gates, who is an associate professor of dance at UCI. Gates was a colleague-dancer with Edgerton at the Joffrey Ballet 20 years ago and she is also the artistic director of the Laguna Dance Festival, so she presented them at the just-concluded festival. (My LA Times review is here.) Their connections with King go back a long way; King came to the Joffrey in the mid-80s to create a piece that featured Gates.

I went to Friday’s informal showing. I can’t talk about the new piece because it’s unfinished and is not ready to be reviewed, or even discussed. But I do want to pass along some of the comments King and Edgerton made afterward because they were quite interesting. The back story for the collaboration goes like this: Edgerton was at the LINES studio overseeing an audition for the Hubbard Street summer intensive (not sure when this was). He wandered into the sudio next door where King was working with his dancers. King was “pulling on the dancers to go further,” Edgerton said. The working experience was so unique, so special, that Edgerton “wanted my dancers to experience that.

“It happened very naively, very simply.”

Both directors acknowledged that their dancers, though similarly trained, are different types and have different movement styles. The LINES dancers are like “Giacometti sculptures and mine are very earthy,” Edgerton summarized. Still, King was eager to go forward with this artistic experiment. They ended up at UCI, because it seemed like a good idea to work on “neutral ground” and a university setting was the perfect solution. Edgerton called Gates and she enthusiastically jumped on it. (As an aside, this has been a win-win situation for all three organizations, so much so that it would seem to be something that university dance departments should cultivate. The students have had the opportunity to work with the professionals, the companies had first-rate facilities and, perhaps most important, the works-in-progress performance gave the artistic directors the chance to see the piece onstage, a most precious and rare opportunity among dance companies, which do not have their own theaters.)

King did not talk about his inspiration for this particular work, but he is an enjoyable, easy-going speaker. He spews forth little pearls of wisdom. An unassuming man with a jovial manner and twinkling eyes, King said he sees his role as dance-maker this way: “We’re here to create something beautiful because that’s what we do. [We make dances] to give something to humanity.”

The creative impetus comes from many places he said — music, nature, metaphors, movement. “I could have millions of ideas in my head, but without them [the dancers] there would be no fruition.”

Gates asked him what it was like to work with the men and women of Hubbard Street, since he didn’t know them as well as his own dancers.

“I think that I don’t know anybody well at all. But when you’re in a room and you’re vulnerable I know you…. We hold onto training, identification. So when those things drop, I can see you.”

He wants his works to be clear, and precise “construction” is key. But King works a lot with metaphor and the dancers’ belief in those metaphors and their interpretation of the movement is key to the pieces not becoming muddied:

“If the idea is about water, let’s say, and there’s millions of metaphors of water, if the dancer leaves that idea and starts thinking of a solid, they’ve lost track of the dance. You’re definitely working with their [the dancers] minds and hearts.”

When asked what advice he would give to emerging choreographers, he suggested observing the construction of anything and everything — nature, buildings, even individual lives. Notice what works and what doesn’t and ask why that is. “Ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’  If you have something to say” in a dance, you need to know who you are and what makes you unique. Then you will make your own unique work, and not copy anyone else’s work, he said.

So what’s next? The original plan called for only two more joint rehearsals before the premiere on Feb. 1, 2013 at Cal Performances. Both men shook their heads at that challenge.

“Now that we see how integrated [the dancers are in the piece], we go back to the drawing board and see what we can do,” Edgerton said.

And how does King know when a new piece is done, he was asked.

“You stick in a thermometer,” he said, smiling sweetly.

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