Dance is back at Segerstrom Center, and dance fans couldn’t be happier.
Segerstrom Center hosted American Ballet Theatre earlier this year for a special one-act afternoon of dance pieces, but the performance by Alonzo King LINES Ballet on Sept. 11 will be the first complete evening of dance since early in 2020.
Not familiar with LINES Ballet?
According to press material, Alonzo King LINES Ballet is a celebrated contemporary ballet company that has been guided since 1982 by the unique artistic vision of Alonzo King. Alonzo King LINES Ballet has collaborated with noted composers, musicians and visual artists from around the world to create performances that alter the way we look at ballet today. Its unique artistic vision adheres to the classical form — the linear, mathematical and geometrical principles that are deeply rooted in the pre-existing East-West continuum.
Intriguingly, LINES Ballet investigates deeply rooted affinities between Western and Eastern classical forms, elemental materials, the natural world, and the human spirit. At LINES Ballet, the artistic investigation is infinite and essential for it leads to what unites us as human beings: empathy, joy, and the ability to transcend.
“The company is like no other,” said LIINES Ballet dancer Adji Cissoko, who grew up in Germany, attended school at ABT on full scholarship, and then joined National Ballet of Canada in 2010. She joined LINES Ballet in 2014. Since then she’s originated many central roles and guested for galas worldwide. Cissoko has given multiple masterclasses and taught classes around the world as part of the company’s outreach program. In 2020 she became certified in health/life coaching as well as in ABT’s National Training Curriculum.
“When I joined LINES, it was classical technique taken further,” recalled Cissoko. “You bring so much of yourself to the pieces. When we’re creating, Alonzo has some kind of vision, and we go off of that. We create something that is personal, a collaboration between the artist and the music. Something wonderful is being created.”
Wonderful creations all but stopped in March of 2020 when the pandemic caused all arts groups to cancel performances.
“That was a challenge,” said Cissoko, who was on tour in Europe with LINES Ballet when the word came that the American borders were closing. She ended up going to Canada to visit her boyfriend. That brief visit turned into eight months.
“That was not a bad thing—I could concentrate on my relationship. But I wondered how I could take classes or stay in shape,” said Cissoko. “I did not know when we would start again—could be in a week or a month. For me it was a positive experience, and helped me to focus on things I often did not have time for.”
This included becoming a life coach and a dance teacher.
“I love seeing people grow, and when you teach dance, it helps me to improve myself.”
But now that LINES Ballet is back together, Cissoko said she’s excited because “you get to perform the same thing night after night. You can work on it and improve on it.”
For the Segerstrom engagement, LINES Ballet will be performing “Azoth,” one of the company’s acclaimed cross-disciplinary collaborations. Charles Lloyd, Jason Moran, and Alonzo King create an unforgettable dialogue between movement and music that illuminates the shared freedom and wonder of their art forms.
Lloyd, a Memphis Music Hall of Fame inductee, and Moran, a MacArthur Fellow and artistic director for jazz at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, share a multidisciplinary approach to their craft that compliments King’s expansive vision for ballet. This work features a light installation by renowned Bay Area artist Jim Campbell.
Rounding out the evening is a series of excerpts from the company’s nearly four-decade history.
In rehearsing “Azoth,” Cissoko watch videos of previous performances and had to remember “what the idea was behind the step, what was the purpose, the structure. You have to remember the purpose. What was I trying to convey, to express with a certain step.”
“In ‘Azoth,’ we do a lot of hand gestures,” explained Cissoko. “When do I show two fingers or one finger? I doubt the audience notices the fingers, but for us it’s so hard, we are really concentrating. Also hand gestures. We are really putting our whole soul and body into that.”
Over the course of the performance, Cissoko dances in toe shoes and flats, which require very different techniques.
“Not all of our pieces are on point, but I put them on every day,” said Cissoko. “I really like them, it helps you fine tune, how you use your feet. You can be so articulate, contemporary. The more you understand every part of your body, the better you become at expressing the movement. When you go on point, you have new meaning, new levels to play with.”
“For me, what makes me the happiest is when people come after the show and say I am so inspired, or just say I felt so connected, I can feel the energy. Something comes across. That’s the most special to me, if they have some sort of experience.”
One last thing—on the LINES Ballet website, an interview with Cissoko notes that her three favorite foods are salmon, watermelon and coconut.
“I wanted to add popcorn” laughs Cissoko. “My dad is from Senegal so my blood loves coconut, and watermelon I cannot live without. And in Canada, there’s a place that has amazing salmon poke.”
Whether it’s food or dance, Cissoko has a focus, and a purpose.
For tickets to LINES Ballet, visit SCFTA.org.