Review: Sutra’s opulent tapestry of movement a nourishing evening of dance

A scene from the Alonzo King LINES Ballet performance of Sutra at the National Arts Centre. Photo courtesy LINES Ballet.

San Francisco’s beloved Alonzo King LINES Ballet is celebrating its 35th season with an international tour and a new work that showcases the ensemble’s diversity and virtuosity.

Sutra opened at the NAC on Friday for a two-night run. For his latest ballet, King has collaborated with tabla master Zakir Hussain, whose score integrates a range of styles and instrumentation from India. The resulting East-meets-West fusion is more oblique and distinctly siloed than, say, in Akram Khan’s approach. King may allude to the spirituality of Indian dance, but he never copies its vocabulary.

Instead, the 12 dancers translated Hussain’s fluttering rhythms and ecstatic vocal lines into powerfully carved, sculptural shapes. The musical phrases were written out in a human calligraphy of dramatically arched backs, deep, M-shaped pliés and hyperextended, flexed-foot developpés.

The dancers barely paused for breath for the entire 75-minute piece, but King still creates moments of meditation and suspended time. In one, a woman lowered her hands to the ground and then covered her face, as if blessing herself with holy river water. A trio of bodies rolled across the floor in a tight knot. Dancers attacked a pile of rags on the floor, throwing them up into the air over and over in a colourful blizzard of cloth. In the final scene, the women participated in a private, moonlit ritual, letting their hair down to dance sensually with each other as the men were sleeping.

The set was a simple backdrop of what appears to be crumpled paper made to look like stone. The lighting changed from inky blue to glowing orange and gold, hinting at the passage of the sun. Robert Rosenwasser’s costumes dressed the dancers in sheer tones of sand and stone.

Sutra means string or thread, an echo of the LINES in the company’s name. At times the work became a little repetitive. There were a few too many scenes of soloists successively strutting their stuff in the middle of a circle, and not enough instances of partnering or intimate connections. But overall, Sutra wove an opulent tapestry of movement, sound and expression, leaving the audience feeling deeply nourished and grateful.  

Sutra’s last Ottawa performance is Saturday night.


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Natasha Gauthier has been covering classical music in Canada and the US for more than 20 years. She was the classical critic at the Ottawa Citizen, and was one of the founding critics of Montreal's HOUR Magazine. She has served on the classical music and dance juries for the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. You can also read her at her blog, Natasha has a BA in Journalism from Concordia University.