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April 21, 2011

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Alonzo King's LINES Ballet's new production "Triangle of the Squinches" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. King has long been a San Francisco dance mainstay, a restless choreographer whose dazzling, athletic dances blur the lines between modern and classical ballet. For this performance he had two key collaborators: percussionist Mickey Hart (of the Grateful Dead), and architect Christopher Haas who did the sets. Haas's best known work to date are likely H.M. de Young Museum in San Francisco and 1111 Lincoln Road in Miami, two projects he managed for Herzog and de Meuron. After seeing the show, I had a chance to talk with Haas about the sets he designed for King. Have a look at the photos in this slideshow and read more about Haas's work. And if you're in the Bay Area, don't miss Triangle of the Squinches, which shows until Sunday, April 24th.

Haas designed two different sets for the two acts of the ballet. The first was a long curtain of shimmering, gossamer elastic cords. Almost immediately the dancers created three triangular gaps in the curtain, setting up one of the central activities of t
Haas designed two different sets for the two acts of the ballet. The first was a long curtain of shimmering, gossamer elastic cords. Almost immediately the dancers created three triangular gaps in the curtain, setting up one of the central activities of the ballet: interacting with the set. "I'd thought of three or four different things for the sets," Haas told me, "but finally only two were strong enough and had enough layers of usage to really work." Photo by Angela Sterling.
Courtesy of 
©Angela Sterling 2011
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The cords proved supple enough to support dancers leaning on them, but still affected a desired lightness. The collaboration with King was born of a relationship that started over a decade ago. Haas's wife had danced for King in the late 90s, but it wasn'
The cords proved supple enough to support dancers leaning on them, but still affected a desired lightness. The collaboration with King was born of a relationship that started over a decade ago. Haas's wife had danced for King in the late 90s, but it wasn't until the mid-aughts when Haas did his first with King: abstracted furniture made from copper scraps from the skin of the de Young Museum. This project, Triangle of the Squinches, was the result of winning an Artist Collaboration Grant from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation & the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Photo by Angela Sterling.
Courtesy of 
©Angela Sterling 2011
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The cords ended up serving all manner of functions in the choreography. Here you see a dancer pulling them back only to release them like the string of a bow. The cords made a perfect whipping sound when released. In another moment, a dancer had her wrist
The cords ended up serving all manner of functions in the choreography. Here you see a dancer pulling them back only to release them like the string of a bow. The cords made a perfect whipping sound when released. In another moment, a dancer had her wrists and ankles bound to the cords, giving her at once the illusion of a trapped bird or marionette. That sense of discovery, for the dancers and the audience, of what the set could do was one of the most engaging elements of the ballet. "I didn't want to give away a lot about what the set when the curtain went up," said Haas. Photo by Angela Sterling.
Courtesy of 
©Angela Sterling 2011
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For the second act, the dancers had a massive, articulated cardboard wall to contend with. Haas called it "a more earthbound thing. It's meant to be a bit, heavy, almost oppressive object. It was supposed to be architecture." Photo by RJ Muna.
For the second act, the dancers had a massive, articulated cardboard wall to contend with. Haas called it "a more earthbound thing. It's meant to be a bit, heavy, almost oppressive object. It was supposed to be architecture." Photo by RJ Muna.
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One of the best moments came when dancers climbed on top of the wall, or hung suspended from it. "Alonzo gave me very little direction," said Haas. "We needed something big, and something that the dancers aren't going to easily exhaust." Photo by Angela S
One of the best moments came when dancers climbed on top of the wall, or hung suspended from it. "Alonzo gave me very little direction," said Haas. "We needed something big, and something that the dancers aren't going to easily exhaust." Photo by Angela Sterling.
Courtesy of 
(C)Angela Sterling 2011
5 / 8
Despite the gravity of the sets, much of the dance still took place out in front, like this passage of floorwork. Other dancers did make use of the wall as a kind of resting place, though. At times they lolled on top almost like leopards, taking in what w
Despite the gravity of the sets, much of the dance still took place out in front, like this passage of floorwork. Other dancers did make use of the wall as a kind of resting place, though. At times they lolled on top almost like leopards, taking in what was going on down below. Photo by Angela Sterling.
Courtesy of 
©Angela Sterling 2011
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Another particularly memorable moment came when two dancers suspended another to allow her to literally walk across the wall. Haas delivered the sets for the first rehearsal on February 1, ten weeks before the show opened. He described how the dancers too
Another particularly memorable moment came when two dancers suspended another to allow her to literally walk across the wall. Haas delivered the sets for the first rehearsal on February 1, ten weeks before the show opened. He described how the dancers took time to start playing with the set, to see what it was capable of and how to best interact with it. "They came up with so many things that impressed the hell out of me," he marveled.
Courtesy of 
(C)Angela Sterling 2011
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"I never really saw myself doing traditional architecture with a big corporate firm," Haas said. "I love fabrication. We made those sets." Haas credits a year working construction in his native Colorado with giving him not only a love of building, but off
"I never really saw myself doing traditional architecture with a big corporate firm," Haas said. "I love fabrication. We made those sets." Haas credits a year working construction in his native Colorado with giving him not only a love of building, but offering him a view of architecture that a more academic approach doesn't impart. He's now off to do a bit more set design, this time a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil and Infiniti. Photo by Angela Sterling.
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Haas designed two different sets for the two acts of the ballet. The first was a long curtain of shimmering, gossamer elastic cords. Almost immediately the dancers created three triangular gaps in the curtain, setting up one of the central activities of t
Haas designed two different sets for the two acts of the ballet. The first was a long curtain of shimmering, gossamer elastic cords. Almost immediately the dancers created three triangular gaps in the curtain, setting up one of the central activities of the ballet: interacting with the set. "I'd thought of three or four different things for the sets," Haas told me, "but finally only two were strong enough and had enough layers of usage to really work." Photo by Angela Sterling.

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