KARIM BAER is the recently hired Executive Director of Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Before joining LINES, he served as a presenter directing an arts and ideas program for California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He sees art as integral to both mental and physical health and wants to support artists to do their greatest work. Dancers’ Group had the opportunity to inquire about his connection to dance, personal inspiration, and aspirations for LINES.
Where are you from and how long have you lived in the Bay Area?
I grew up in Little Rock, AR. I have lived in the Bay Area for fourteen years, which is longer than I’ve lived anywhere. I always wanted to live in the Bay Area. I came here for a retreat in Mendocino the summer of 2001 and met someone who offered me a job managing and directing the programming for a large yoga studio in Berkeley. I think he simply needed a good Midwesterner who could be stable enough to make the business profitable. I found out I had a knack for programming and that led to my last position at CIIS.
Where do you currently live and spend your time?
I live near Piedmont Ave in Oakland and spend a lot of time running around Lake Merritt, cycling in the Oakland Hills and swimming at Keller Cover in Pt. Richmond. The Rockridge farmer’s market is definitely a regular stop.
What drew you to wanting to work with Alonzo King LINES Ballet?
I have had a deep appreciation of LINES Ballet for a long time. There is something about the company that I find extremely elevated, yet simultaneously accessible to people who may not understand dance. It definitely feels like transformation through movement. Equally, I’ve always found Alonzo to be an artist that makes art into a sacred endeavor. It is obvious that his choreography comes from a deep place inside of him. I feel passionate that people need nonlinear experiences in life in order to create balance and maintain true health; Alonzo is a master of creating those moments.
What were you doing before joining the staff at LINES?
For the last eleven years, I have curated and directed the Public Programs & Performances at California Institute of Integral Studies. Originally, it was a collection of small workshops. I’m proud to have grown it in into a diverse program that includes a small performing arts season as well as featured artists and public intellectuals in discourse.
Do you have an artistic practice and/or background?
I grew up playing drums in a punk rock band. Later I learned how to play the daff, a North African frame drum taught in the tradition of the Nubian artist Hamza El Din. I had the distinct honor of actually having an informal lesson from him. About a decade ago I played the daff on stage with The Dead at the 10th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death. I appreciate art in so many forms. At CIIS, my creativity really came through my curating of diverse arts and ideas. I look forward to being surrounded by so much creativity and finding unique ways to tell the story of LINES Ballet.
What inspires you?
Music or dance that is playing with the intersection of tradition and innovation. Outside of that, I’ve found a lot of inspiration in triathlon training.
What event(s) will we find you at this fall/ winter?
Besides the LINES Ballet performances with Lisa Fischer, I’m looking forward to attending the concerts I curated for CIIS. Kayhan Kalhor, the Iranian kamancheh maestro is beyond this world and the collaboration of Acoustic Africa with Habib Koite? and Vusi Mahlesela will be riveting. You’ll likely also find me at SF JAZZ for concerts with Esperanza Spalding and Hugh Masekela. I’m also curious to see Company Wayne McGregor presented by SF Performances at YBCA.
What’s a favorite Bay Area institution?
Oakland Triathlon Club. They supported me through six triathlons. I’ve met and trained with people from all walks of life through this organization.
First dance/performance memory?
I’m not sure exactly. Little Rock’s public schools seemed to make a religion out of the Nutcracker growing up. Now, I really wished they could have exposed us all to great dance companies and artists like Gallim, ODC, Bill T. Jones. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform for 1000+ third graders. I think that might be one my favorite dance moments. The students’ joy and appreciation was so pure, innocent and exuberant. They weren’t busy trying to find meaning or interpret something they didn’t understand. Rather, they were simply enjoying the movement and the way it brought them into this moment, the way it made them feel.
Favorite dance move?
I’m not a dancer, so can’t impress anyone here. My love for contemporary ballet is growing daily. I feel fortunate that LINES Ballet rehearses two doors from my office, so I can pop my head in for a breath of inspiration if my day is getting too linear.
Shortlist of inspiring people, books, moments, classes, etc.?
Listening to kamencheh for the first time at age eighteen one week after moving to Kansas City back in ’93.
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
The Big Cats (an indy rock band from Little Rock, AR)
The many somatic psychology movement classes I took during my undergrad. Waking up before dawn in the town of Pushkar in India. The town wakes up to various forms of musical worship. It begins with a lone priest chanting, and then becomes a growing tapestry of sound as the town emerges including a lively drum solo from across town.
If money is no object, where is the next place you might travel?
I’d like to spend more time in Europe. Most of my travel has been to countries like Bali, Morocco, India. I’ve heard great things about Sweden.
What’s heaven to you?
Meeting with good friends to eat, drink, enjoy one another. Swimming in the bay has become a favorite activity too.
What’s hell to you?
Being surrounded by intolerance, strip malls and fast food.
What’s a future goal or dream that you have for LINES?
I’d like to see LINES Ballet grow its notoriety in SF and abroad. I’d like SF to really own the company as representing our creative life and values to the world. I hope to create a culture of philanthropy for the arts and for LINES, and to increase SF’s commitment to supporting the arts so we can continue to be a great city known for its vibrancy.
What advice have you been given that you still hold on to today?
If your horse only goes backward, turn its tail toward your home. This is another way to say even your flaws can be used to make yourself into a better human being. I also see it as a way to always look for areas of strength between people even in disagreement.
What’s the question you wish we asked, and the answer?
What was the moment you knew you wanted to be the Executive Director for Alonzo King LINES Ballet? I had the opportunity to watch Alonzo teach about thirty young dancers who were part of the summer program. There was a quality to his teaching that I found equally relevant for living life, a certain generosity and precision. I realized that LINES Ballet is so much more than just a touring dance company. The education that takes place through the various programs and dance center are igniting a passion for movement that is truly vital to individual and community health. Interviewing for this position, I felt like one of his dancers auditioning for a spot. I am truly honored and humbled to serve LINES Ballet.