A trio of stars debuts a new work

After a late-February Nor'easter postponed opening night for 24 hours, a dream team of collaborators presented three performances of music and dance that transcended the sum of its parts.

Each of the participants, performer-choreographer Mark Morris, his troupe of dancers, the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and dance-celebrity Mikhail Baryshnikov, seemed to delight in their collaboration, an artistic give-and-take that produced a glorious amalgamation of sight and sound at Boston's Wang Center.

The high point was a new dance by Mr. Morris titled "The Argument," with Mr. Ma and pianist Ethan Iverson on stage with three couples: Mr. Baryshnikov and Marjorie Folkman, Morris and Tina Fehlandt, and Shawn Gannon and Ruth Davidson.

These dancers used every bit of body language possible to suggest the lines of combat between men and women in love.

Robert Schumann's "Five Pieces in Folk-Style" hinted at the volatility of human relationships, ranging in emotion from anger to a guilty tenderness, as if the feelings were more than the individuals could control. As character studies, and indeed, as miniature playlets, the clarity of communication between the partners left no need for words.

On stage, Baryshnikov - as a modern dancer - is a wonder of expressiveness and economy of motion. Every step he takes is crisp and defined, while his focus remains fixed on his partner. Dressed in sleek black pants and turtleneck, he is small in stature, but commands attention with the charisma of a superstar. Opposite him, Ms. Folkman is every bit his equal in feistiness, a woman who easily tossed back the aggressiveness that is sent her way. Morris continues to be a persuasive dancer, galloping as a jovial performer who relishes this role no less than choreographer.

In "The Argument," Ma seemed to let his cello sing out the notes, sending out energy and taking it back from the dancers, who occasionally moved nearer to visibly mirror the music. The relationship is even closer in "Falling Down Stairs." It was originally created for Ma's film based on Bach's "Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello," which premired on PBS in 1998. Morris's stage choreography for "Falling Down Stairs," set to the third suite, was first seen in Berkeley, Calif., in 1997.

Ma and his amplified cello formed one corner of a triangle in "Falling Down Stairs." A set of steps is center stage and in the space in front of it 15 dancers rise and fall like so many waves of continual motion. Morris as choreographer has clearly taken mood, force of the steps, and timing from Ma, so much so that the movement gives the illusion of spontaneity, despite the careful patterning.

The dancers who spring off the steps and out of the wings are dressed in various combinations of lushly colored velvet robes, both short and long, designed by Isaac Mizrahi. In one somber segment they resemble the Renaissance lords of Florence, pictured in so many of the paintings of the period, while at other times they are nearly airborne, the robes swirling around them.

Morris keeps the surprises coming: Three women perch on the edge of the steps to watch a quartet of men in unison folk dance; a phrase ends with a dramatic dive by Julie Warden off the stairs into a safety net of men's arms. One segment consists of a nine-dancer ensemble moving their arms in coded unison gestures. No matter how compelling the choreography, Ma is always the center of attention, taking pleasure and inspiration from the dancers. "Falling Down Stairs" is most of all about Ma as a genial and loving taskmaster, setting an evocative beat.

"Rhymes With Silver," Morris's 1997 homage to composer Lou Harrison, completed the program. Ma and three other musicians relocated to the orchestra pit, leaving the stage to Howard Hodgkin's painted backdrop of Christmas-tree red and green horizontal waves and the dancers. Morris's choreography for this long work lacks cohesiveness, despite some memorable segments that suggest influences as varied as FarEastern religious symbols, MiddleEuropean folkdance, couple-dancing from mid-20th century America, and even a spinning image recalled from Morris's early years in dancemaker Laura Dean's troupe.

*The program, complete with this cast, will be repeated at the Brooklyn Academy of Music March 30, a one-night benefit performance for the Mark Morris Dance Group. The troupe then will tour (without Baryshnikov) to Columbus, Ohio, April 3; Fairfax, Va., April 6 and 7; and Irvine, Calif., April 9-11.

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