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Flash Review 3, 3-19: Morris Note for Note
Pecidillos at the Office as Mosaic and United Dance a Grand Duo of a Honeymoon

By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2001 Terry Hollis

Mark Morris has a good time with a piece of music and everyone knows that; except the two women sitting behind me Thursday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. After Mark Morris Dance Group finished "Mosaic and United," one of them thought it was a shame to chain such beautiful dancers to every single note. Her companion thought that this made the work that much more beautiful because Morris doesn't reduce the music to a mere backdrop, to which her friend replied, "That's only if you believe music is automatically reduced in the presence of dance" (I was eavesdropping, by the way). I didn't get to hear how the conversation turned out because they left before "Grand Duo," which is too bad because it had a little something for both of them. It's true that the academic approach does get dry, even on such a grand scale with great performers (by the end of the evening I prayed for one spontaneous moment, a mistake, something!), and Morris can put a lot of effort into being witty and original. But, originality does win out a lot of the time and the combination of high-brow and low-brow is complete because he ain't faking either one.

"Mosaic and United," to music by Henry Cowell, shows five separate worlds existing on the same stage, each one carrying out the patterns of the music in its own time. Even though they do move close to each other and even touch, they never seem like they're on the same stage and the piece does become a little astringent as it moves along. There is beauty in the fact that the geometric couplings attach and detach from each other like Lego pieces, forming some nice tableaus, and although there is no emotional undercurrent there are some plain, powerful moments. Lauren Grant lying on her back with her arms and legs splayed upwards piles need, pain, and helplessness into one picture. The Mosaic Quartet was intended to be played in any order, leaving the movements completely unattached, and while the dance does keep the performers "separate" it has nothing to do with independence. Going back to Morris's folk dance roots, it reinforces his "each one makes up the whole" philosophy.

Indulgence. That's the word that kept popping up while I watched Mark Morris perform "Peccadillos." From the moment the curtain went up to reveal Ethan Iverson sitting at a toy piano I got a queasy feeling in my stomach. Pecking out Erik Satie's children's etudes from 1913, Iverson guides Morris through a series of indulgences that the audience loved. The only thing that saved the piece for me was a series of priceless jetes at the end that evoke the image of a hefty kid on the last day of school.

One of things that I like about "Dancing Honeymoon" is that it's so damn bright. The piece looks like yellow and white hard candy and the layer of dance hall theatrics is a chance to relax from the "haute-art" that goes on at these things. To British music hall songs by Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan (sung by Eileen Clark), the dancers swirl from scene to scene depicting the humorous lyrics of "A Cup Of Coffee," "Goodnight, Vienna," "Who," and other tunes. During "Goodnight, Vienna" the dancers drape over their chairs giving a final film noir/femme fatale slap of the hand, and Charlton Boyd dragging his chair might as well be walking through a piazza. The piece is driven by the innocent, eager to please energy of the music hall; there's even a built-in bow at the end that you're not quite sure is part of the dance.

"The Office" appears to be an homage to anyone who has ever dealt with the drudgery of the brown and gray world of 9-to-5. One of the best jokes in the piece is the painfully normal, nondescript chairs lined up across the back of the stage. The workers here engage each other in a series of group dances that get smaller and smaller as a highly stern Mireille Radwan-Dana shows up to led them off to...(execution?). At the end there is only a slightly confused Marjorie Folkman left to sit and wait.

The last work of the evening turned out to be a pretty nasty customer. "Grand Duo" presents a base, primitive society of people that seem to be living below the surface. The music, Lou Harrison's Grand Duo for Violin and Piano, surrounds their world with low resonant sound that seems to bully the dancers around. The piece is abstract, but the mood is so intense that you almost have to assign emotional foundations to each section. In 'Mosaic and United" the dancers come together because of logic; here they seem to cling together out of fear or for survival. The finale, a fearsome polka, makes them seem like puppets subjected to endless strings of repetitions and contortions. Overall it's difficult to get a grasp on the piece as a whole because there doesn't seem to be a through line, but each section establishes itself as a different layer of this world so well that you really don't care.

Mark Morris Dance Group continues at BAM through Sunday, with this program repeating tomorrow night at 7:30.

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