Mark Morris Dance Group
David H. Koch Theater
New York, NY
August 24, 2016
By Carol Pardo
© copyright 2016 by Carol Pardo
Mozart and Morris: the standard bearer of music's classical era meets (arguably) the most classicizing choreographer of his generation. The combination must have seemed inevitable when, in 2006, the Mostly Mozart Festival commissioned a work to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth. The result, "Mozart Dances," not seen in New York in nearly a decade, has been revived to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mostly Mozart Festival itself.
With "Mozart Dances," Morris delivered an evening-length work in three interlocking parts, set to, and named after, three lesser known works for piano, the piano concertos numbers 11 and 27 separated by the Sonata in D major for Two Pianos: 'Eleven', 'Double' and 'Twenty-seven' in their danced incarnation. Much in these works reinforced what is both familiar and admirable in Morris and his work. He has the utmost respect for the music he chooses (particularly attractive in a music festival setting) and definite ideas about how it should be played: at these performances, the pianist in the pit was Garrick Ohlsson, joined by Inon Barnatan for 'Double'. His craft is undeniable. There are no loose ends. Morris has chosen his vocabulary and sticks to it creating a world complete unto itself. The choreographer's love of the group is on display (each work uses almost the entire company). But there are surprises too, particularly the primacy given to a single dancer -- Lauren Grant in 'Eleven' and Aaron Loux in 'Double' -- in a troop where the group predominates.
Loux is the dancer around whom the others often cluster, the high priest, or big brother, or captain of a sunken ship who hasn't quite given up command on dry land. He may be bare chested, but he's the only guy in a frock coat. Grant is short and fast with a low center of gravity. She's also the senior woman in the company and gave a performance grand in scale, beautifully controlled (a recurring phrase of tightly knit steps for the feet opening into an extended pose on one leg was executed without changing gears in midstream) and witty, nothing pushed, nothing oversold, a lesson in the power of experience and intelligence. Morris sets her off further by lining up the other women behind her to form that most hierarchical device, the chorus line. The costumes echo the hierarchy. Grant's dress is solid black; the others wear transparent black shifts over black undergarments, their bodies split into horizontal registers. Only the soloist appears all of a piece. (For 'Twenty-seven', the finale in which equality reigns, the costumes, by Martin Pakledinaz, are all white.) The sets, three suites of brushstrokes by Howard Hodgkin, initially seemed too big, overpowering the dancers but, at least in retrospect, each contributed either as impetus, or echo or counterweight to the dancing going on beneath them. The enlarged horizontal strokes from left to right ignited 'Eleven' and the evening. Those behind 'Double' resembled hens of the most baroque, cossetted variety, strutting their stuff at the Westminster Poultry Show, lighter than air, just like the women in long tulle skirts who appeared from the wings, tantalized and disappeared during the Andante. Conversely, the final set, black and red like a lump of coal and smeared blood, acted as a weight on the dancers and dancing as the show wound down.
Why, though, with so many people on the same page, contributing to a coherent whole, did the evening seem so bland? Perhaps Morris is too respectful of the music he chose. Perhaps the chosen scores are too similar in their delicacy. When the brass showed up in 'Twenty-seven' it was a relief and an awakening. Each piece has three movements and a cast of either fifteen or sixteen. 'Eleven' and 'Double' are almost mirror images in their deployment of the men and women of the company, central in on piece, teaser in the other. Even the repeated sharp-edged motifs, the arms, lifted and bent hands joined between the shoulder blades and looking like chicken wings, the raised angled arm like a policeman stopping traffic, the kneeling pose with one leg out to the side, all jutting angles, couldn't spice things up. For that, perhaps, one needs variety.