an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Mark Morris Unveils New Dance at His Intimate Brooklyn Studio

This article originally appeared in the Culture section of Bloomberg News on January 18, 2007.

Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) — From every one of the 140 seats in the black-box theater at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, you’re close enough to see the performers’ muscles flexing, hear their footfalls, and feel in your own body the vibrations of the live music to which they move. While the Mark Morris Dance Group is at home in opera houses worldwide — including the Broooklyn Academy of Music just across the street — the choreographer chose this intimate space for the two-week run of a repertory program that opened last night.

The new item on the bill, a quintet with Morris himself at the center, is a disappointment. Called “Italian Concerto,” after the Bach score to which it’s set, the piece is dominated by cryptic gestures, first performed discretely then expanded into more flowing dance phrases.

The swiftly paced opening and closing movements seem merely a frame for the slow middle section that’s Morris’s solo. At 50, Morris has grown jowly and thick in the middle, but he’s still a powerful, rhythmically astute dancer. Here, though, you wonder what his gestures might mean: the forward-thrusting hands with their splayed fingers, the repeated double tap of a flat palm on the chest, in the territory of the heart. The dance could be seen as a portrait of an aging creator — a Prospero or a Merce Cunningham.

Love Rules

The program’s standouts were two dances offering very different takes on the theme of love. “The Argument,” created in 1999, couldn’t be more contemporary: It dwells on lovers’ incompatibility.

Three male-female couples dance successive duets to Schumann’s “Funf Stucke im Volkston” for cello and piano. The relationship of the first pair is fueled by rage. The thoughtful second couple is never going to mate easily; both partners are too serious and too easily discouraged. The man and woman of the third duo veer between anger they keep in check, which isolates them from each other, and conciliatory impulses that lack sufficient force to prevail. Ruefully, we recognize them all. We’ve lived most of the roles ourselves.

Morris’s 1989 “Love Song Waltzes,” a sequel to his 1982 “New Love Song Waltzes” — the two co-opt the pair of Brahms scores Balanchine chose for his ravishing “Liebeslieder Walzer” — locates love in the community rather than in the hearts of a special pair set apart from workaday society.

Morris deploys a dozen dancers as an ensemble, in small interrelating clusters, and occasionally as couples (same-sex and hetero). The twosomes are usually replicated and thus purged of exclusivity.

Shifting Social Arrangements

All the social arrangements are shifting ones. The emotions, lavish in their range, are fleeting too, as if the people in the dance lived in a climate famous for its changeable weather. And every feeling, from tender empathy to the more vehement passions (one being a fierce if futile resistance to love), belongs to the group as a whole. Given these conditions, the dance looks wonderfully fluid, but its structure is tight as a drum.

Throughout the evening, the dancers laid claim to the highest praise for their technical aplomb, their musicality, and their sheer human authenticity.

In case dance observers were worrying about Morris’s working lately on too small a scale, word came yesterday that his next project is a full-evening “Romeo and Juliet.” It will have its premiere at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, in the 2008 SummerScape Festival.

Rome, Juliet Redux

One would think that the ballet world had already given us enough of these lovers, but Morris can safely say something that has always been true of his work, “The music made me.” His production will be made in response to the discovery in Russia of documents on Prokofiev’s original score and scenario, suppressed in the Stalinist era because they failed to conform to the dictates of Socialist Realism. Since Morris is inclined to follow no dictates but his own and those of the music he’s chosen to work with, he should be just the man for this job.

The Mark Morris Dance Group continues at the Mark Morris Dance Center, 3 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, through Jan. 27. Information: +1-212-352-3101 or http://www.mmdg.org.

© 2007 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

an ArtsJournal blog