Inspired by Black History Month, for the Winter 2021 Edition we are REWIND-ing back to October 2001 which marked the world premiere of LINES Ballet’s seminal work The People of the Forest.
The first full-evening work by Alonzo King, The People of the Forest was a monumental artistic collaboration between Alonzo King LINES Ballet and Nzamba Lela, a 16-member ensemble of musicians and dancers of the BaAka tribe. The BaAka are one of the world’s last hunter-gatherer societies in the Central African Republic and their music is distinguished by the practice of highly elaborate vocal polyphony.
The BaAka people rarely travel from their home in the Central African Republic forest; this collaboration spurred Nzamba Lela’s first trip to the United States. Choreographed and developed over a two-week stay at a studio built for Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project in Florida, the full-length dance piece explored the transcendence of cultural and language boundaries in art, integrating contemporary ballet and music rooted in an ancient culture. The common artistry found in both the LINES Ballet dancers and the BaAka musicians produced a work characterized by spirit rather than form. The People of the Forest also highlighted Alonzo King’s ability to communicate a unique vision of movement, music and rhythm articulating an intense poetry of movement.
In the context of American events, The People of the Forest was presented right after the tragic incidents of September 11, 2001, and took place amidst a heated political climate in which issues of race, culture, and national identity came to the fore. From their perspective, the BaAka people were particularly interested in performing with Alonzo for the purpose of lending visibility to their plight. The BaAka culture and population has been under attack from a variety of sources, including logging and deforestation, urban development, and the effects of civil war in surrounding regions. During their performances at universities around the country they included a presentation on the BaAka people and their struggles. The performance was a provocative and often cathartic experience, for both performers and audiences, touching on issues that were sensitive and relevant to both.
Perhaps the most powerful realization was that – despite the obvious differences between Alonzo King, his Company and the BaAka people – they found that their artistic ideals were in harmony. They joined together in mutual appreciation of each other to produce, stage and perform a beautiful work. All participants in the process experienced a profound appreciation for the strength of character and artistic ingenuity and expression of the BaAka, and the power of collaboration.
Members of Nzamba Lela in The People of the Forest
“It would seem that there is a large difference between what is being done in Central Africa and what is being done in the high tech industrial studios of the west. But in essence we are attempting the same thing: Transcendence, communication, connection.
Tradition. Most of the time when people are speaking of tradition they are really talking about customs. The way a people have done certain things for years. But tradition has to do with eternal truths and verities. True tradition is based in what is beyond all form, it has its source in Spirit. The statement “As above so below” is pointing toward tradition. If we are to look back, as that word indicates, then we have to look all the way back, far past recorded history. Cause and effect are based in tradition, love understood as a force and not as sentiment is based in tradition, the straight line and circle are based in tradition. The origin of numbers and their meaning, the solo and the chorus, proceeding from and returning to the beginning, these are all based in tradition.
There is only one tradition. From it spring endless interpretations.”
Excerpts from the 2001 premiere performed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, California.
An interview with Alonzo King, featuring footage from the Ituri Forest and LINES Ballet in performance.
Choreographer: Alonzo King
Dancers: Alonzo King LINES Ballet (Christian Burns, Gregory Dawson, Xavier Ferla, Andrea Flores, Marina Hotchkiss, Maurya Kerr, Alex Ketley, Benito Marcelino, Summer Lee Rhatigan, Chiharu Shibata, Artur Sultanov)
Music: Nzamba Léla (Marie Bokouma, Antoine Botambi, Albert Ekolongo, Bernard Magnale, Bernard Malala, Marie Mambo, Marie Mbande, Pauline Moako, Gabriel Mogbokopo, Thomas Mokenzo, Nicolas Mombangou, Véronique Ndobe, Pierre Ndole, Honoré Ngbako, Thérèse Tinakoka, Antoine Zoko)
The People of the Forest is made possible by funding from: Africa Exchange; The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation; The Howard Gilman Foundation; The Harkness Foundation for Dance; The Irvine Fellowships in Dance, a program funded by The James Irvine Foundation and administered by Dance/USA; The LEF Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts, Creation and Presentation Program.
The People of the Forest was created in partnership with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Co-commissioners include: University of Florida at Gainesville; Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont; New Jersey Performing Arts Center, World Festival; University of Washington at Seattle; White Bird Dance in Portland, Oregon; University of Texas at Austin.
The People of the Forest was also made possible by the Doris Duke Fund for Dance of the National Dance Project, a program of the New England Foundation for the Arts. Additional funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Philip Morris Companies Inc.
The work was created, in part, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco through a 2001-02 Wattis Artist Residency. Wattis Artists Residencies in the Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Film/Video and Education are funded by a grant from Phyllis Wattis with additional funding from Catherine and Ned Topham. Residencies in the Performing Arts are also supported by a generous gift of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund.
“LINES REWIND” is a quarterly series that shares exclusive footage from LINES Ballet’s archives with donors of $100+.
This collection of videos was published on February 1 and will remain available until our next edition mid-April 2021. For questions about donor benefits and LINES REWIND access, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.