Arts review: The Propelled Heart – Lisa Fischer shines with Alonzo King Lines Ballet from Frisco
Translating an Indian guru’s philosophical concept into choreography was a tough challenge, but the energetic dancers match Fischer’s vocals wonderfully
San Francisco’s Alonzo King Lines Ballet made its Hong Kong debut with The Propelled Heart, a collaboration between King as choreographer and celebrated singer Lisa Fischer.
Fast-paced and entertaining, the piece is dominated by Fischer’s extraordinary vocals and makes a fine showcase for the spectacular athleticism and energy of the company’s dancers.
The title is taken from the writings of Indian guru Sri Yukteswar and refers to a stage of development in life where the heart is propelled to explore the nature of the universe and the meaning of truth.
This kind of philosophical concept is never easy to translate into dance, and choreographically the work doesn’t have the substance required to bring it off. The underlying themes are better expressed through words than movement and the most profound moments come from Fischer’s singing rather than the dancing.
The production succeeds better in the interaction between dancers and singer (Fischer is on stage most of the time) and how the dancers reflect with their bodies what she is doing with her voice. The score mixes original electronic music by J.C. Maillard - which incorporates abstract vocals with the voice as pure instrument - with a selection of songs.
In terms of choreography, King draws on his dancers’ classical training to create movement that echoes the likes of Béjart and Forsythe. The key feature is extreme extensions of legs and arms with sharply bent knees or elbows, creating angular, spiky shapes. Striking though this is, it’s used so much that the effect begins to pall, while group sections lack structure and coherence.
There are two sets of double duets – although the first felt perilously like something on MTV, the second, set to Fischer’s rendition of civil rights anthem We’ll Never Turn Back, was genuinely beautiful, skilfully choreographed and danced as soulfully as it was sung.
The most powerful moment of the evening was another iconic song of freedom and oppression, Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday. Fischer performed this with such searing intensity that you couldn’t look away from her and the dance that accompanied it became redundant.
If the work is above all a celebration of Fischer’s astounding talent, there is no denying the energy, passion and commitment of the dancers. In a superb ensemble, among those who stood out were Michael Montgomery, Yujin Kim, Courtney Henry and Babatunji.
The Propelled Heart
Alonzo King Lines Ballet
Kwai Tsing Theatre, 12 Hing Ning Rd, Kwai Fong
Reviewed: September 1