Dance Treats From Mark Morris
The off-beat choreographer and his glorious company demonstrate peak form in Boston
IF Mark Morris were an architect, his structures would be beautiful classical compositions - with a gargoyle or grotesque jutting from the cornices for comic effect.Skip to next paragraph
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This builder of dances adores classical composers: Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert. His dances have a precision and light-footed delicacy gleaned from their musical sources, but they are not pretty in the way of a "Swan Lake" or "Giselle." Just when a dance begins to have the smoothness of ballet, Mr. Morris throws in a burp of movement or a convulsion of ecstasy that is distinctly unballetic.
Morris has brought this love of music allied with humor to Boston's Emerson Majestic Theatre, where last week his company performed two world premieres and tomorrow night finishes up with a program choreographed to a grab bag of 20th-century music: the Louvin Brothers, the Violent Femmes, and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. (Morris may be a classicist, but his taste is eclectic.)
His new solo piece, danced to George Gershwin's "Three Piano Preludes," highlights his versatility both as a choreographer and a performer. Dressed in a tuxedo-like outfit, with spats and white gloves, Morris captures the "wah wah wah" flapper quality of 1930s music. As in all his dances, the hands are the key component in his movements. He used them in "Three Preludes" to punctuate gestures like a mime: uncurling his fists, flicking his wrist, and flinging his arms.
The choreographer's physique is, to put it bluntly, heftier than most male dancers', and he gleefully cashes in on that distinction by making dances that lean slightly off-center, or have a lower center of gravity. (Morris apparently considers most young ballerinas as too thin, and his company is cheerfully composed of tall and short, average-weight dancers of both sexes who are strong enough to lift one another easily.) His trademark long hair, which usually waves around his face Medusa-like, was pulled
back for the Gershwin incarnation.
One of the things Morris became accustomed to during his sojourn in Brussels (see accompanying article) was live music. For the classical-music segment of the Boston performance, Morris enlisted his musical director, pianist Linda Dowdell, and conductor Craig Smith's locally based Emmanuel Music group.
Because of the high cost of hiring musicians, it is unusual for a dance troupe to perform to live music. It is even more unusual for a choreographer to use choral music as his centerpiece, as Morris does. There is no sound to compare to the unamplified voices of some of New England's finest singers, reaching into every corner and crevice of the theater. Mezzo soprano Lorraine Hunt led the way, and her singing was so passionate and involving that it was hard not to steal a glance at her on the side, while
keeping up with the dancing onstage.
With live music there is always an improvisational climate; the performers' moods subtly color the rhythm and tempo. Morris clearly counts on this element to keep each dance fresh and interesting, for himself as well as the audience. It is easy to imagine that opening-night energy infused the second world premiere, titled "Bedtime" and set to three songs by Franz Schubert, with even more intensity than was choreographed into it.