Mark Morris Dance Group at Jacob's PillowA friend and I went to Jacob's Pillow this evening to see the Mark Morris Dance Group perform. Below is the review I wrote for our local paper.
In terms of pacing, musical range, shifting moods, and movement ideas, Tuesday evening’s performance by the Mark Morris Dance Group at Jacob’s Pillow was an engaging and affecting experience.
(photo by Ken Friedman)
The program was weighted toward Morris’s recent work -- the first two pieces premiered this year, and the third was less than two years old. Of these, the most interesting was “Looky,” which Morris introduced in May on the stage of the new waterfront building of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Set to five pieces composed by Kyle Gann for a Disklavier player piano, “Looky” embodies both Morris’s aesthetic of linking movement closely to the music, and his ability to incorporate suggestive elements of narrative into a piece that isn’t really telling a story.
In the case of “Looky,” the set-up, not surprisingly, is that a crowd of people have arrived at a gallery and are taking in the works on exhibit. (With 18 dancers on the Ted Shawn Theatre’s smallish stage, the Pillow had to forego the touch of having a self-playing Disklavier as part of the set.) But that’s not all. Some of the dancers from time to time serve as (animated) statues for the others to gaze at and sketch; some in the crowd shift the venue to a cabaret where they’re watching a floorshow; some at times use the chairs supplied for sitting and staring as weapons in outbursts of stylized hostility. All in all, a striking treatment of looking at art vs. producing art, and acting civilized vs. acting out.
“Italian Concerto,” an abstract piece premiered in January, establishes an emotional trajectory that reflects the fast-slow-fast sequence of the Bach composition to which it is set. In the opening duet, David Leventhal and Amber Darragh used arm and hand gestures, as much as steps and leg movements, to suggest confidence and vigor. They were followed by Joe Bowie in a solo in which a repeated gesture of hand-to-chest anchored movement that combined contemplativeness with what seemed like experiments in self-expression. In a second duet, Dallas McMurray and Julie Worden were in a bright mood, performing lightly bouncing movement. The piece concluded with all five dancers united via common gestures at the front of the stage.
Less than a year after Susan Sontag died in December 2004, Morris dedicated “Candleflowerdance,” the third piece on the program, to her. Set to Stravinsky’s Serenade in A, the choreography gives its six dancers gentle movement to perform, centered in a square marked by tape on the floor of the stage. The dancers use hands pointed heavenward; motifs of mutual support, such as a London bridge sequence; and simple walking between sections of the dance to create an affirming mood of community regard for both living and dead.
To round out the evening, Morris dipped into his back catalogue, now numbering over 120 works. “Love Song Waltzes,” choreographed in 1989, is set to Brahms’ “Liebesliederwalzer,” sung at the Pillow by Katherine Whyte, Jamie Barton, Siddhartha Misra, and Mischa Bouvier, accompanied on the piano by Tatiana Vassilieva and Bonnie Wager, all Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center.
The choreography for “Love Song Waltzes” is a seamless flow of generally short sequences for a dozen dancers, often in pairs, but also in larger groupings. The dancers move on and off stage, and in and out of groups, with a frequency that requires well-schooled precision to pull off cleanly. Morris’s dancers made a beautiful job of it.