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Flash Review 1, 3-6: New Morris Dance
...& Others from Mark, for New York

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2002 Alicia Mosier

NEW YORK -- It was an afternoon of humor, tenderness, repose, and joy at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House Sunday as the Mark Morris Dance Group concluded its spring season with "Bijoux," "Jesu, Meine Freunde," last year's "V," and the brand-new "Foursome." There was an ungodly crush in the lobby before the show began; throughout the afternoon, the audience seemed more than usually attentive and engaged with the dancers and the dances. Almost six months after September 11, people seem hungrier than ever for art that makes their heart sing. Sunday's program, spanning twenty years of Morris's inventions, did not disappoint.

"Foursome" is a funny little dance for Shawn Gannon, John Heginbotham, Guillermo Resto, and Morris himself. Set to Erik Satie's "Gnossiennes 1, 2, and 3" and "Seven Hungarian Dances" by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, it is witty and wry and unadorned. The four men -- two younger, two older, all dressed in street clothes of varying degrees of attractiveness (Gannon wears tight jeans and loafers, Morris a red cardigan, orange t-shirt, and khaki shorts) -- walk side by side in a line, do little runs at different speeds, shake loose their arms, and do-se-do in a deadpan square dance. No small fun is made of the conventions of Men Together On Stage, including those made famous by Jerome Robbins, whose piano ballets are joshingly remembered here. Gannon and Heginbotham have a little competition, then gesture grandly at the horizon. Morris and Resto, standing shoulder to shoulder, stamp the ground and flutter their hands, mock-Spanish style. After a lusty duet with Heginbotham, Morris (looking like a latter-day Socrates in Birkenstocks) strides unceremoniously off into the wings. On one level, it's just four men together moving casually in the same space, in between the spaces of the music. But there's something here about age and friendship, about relationships and our dreams about relationships, that's touched with both farce and wisdom.

With top-speed tumbles, tap-dance shuffles, and out-of-control spins that stopped on a dime, June Omura showed all the dimensions of her strength in "Bijoux," which followed "Foursome." The ardent, charming Jean-Paul Fouchecourt sang Satie's "Quatre petites melodies" and "Ludions," with Ethan Iverson at the piano, as Omura, in her pink satin dress, hurtled about the stage. The piece is like the shining of a spotlight into the room of a young woman playing dress-up -- or maybe not playing at all. For all its rambunctiousness, there's something sinister about it. It's made of tiny episodes of rapture and anguish and fun, all on a black stage under a single dim light. Omura gave it everything she had and left us enthralled.

"Jesu, Meine Freunde" provides a different sort of exhilaration. Like Bach's cantata (marvelously sung Sunday by the Voices of Ascension chorus directed by Dennis Keene), it is a maze of heavenly repetitions, little gestures that expand to stage-filling patterns and then focus down to the pointing of a finger. The piece can look trapped in its own motifs, but nevertheless the effect is hypnotic: ten dancers in white tracing the contours of the music. Matthew Rose deserves special mention for the marble-cool beauty he brought to the opening moments, in which the theme (a complex sentence for the arms and hands) is introduced.

"V," which premiered last October at Cal Performance's Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, is one of those dances that at first seems like nothing much -- very beautiful, very happy, with a second movement that's somehow both disturbing and comforting. (See Aimee Ts'ao's review of the Berkeley premiere.) There seem to be very few steps, really, and those there are are extremely pure. But they grow in your mind as you remember them. The wide-open arms at the beginning that open and close in vigorous hugs at the end; the three-pointed trios in the first movement, echoed in the tripping, traveling cabrioles for three dancers in the third; the gentle plie that shifts the body from one angle to another as the arms breathe in front of the body -- these movements are like something children would do.

And that second movement is like the childhood of the world. A few couples do piercingly beautiful duets, sink to the floor in a deep plie, then crouch (on hands and knees, with the knees raised slightly from the ground) and crawl slowly away. One line of dancers, crossing the stage in this primal way, intersects with another; as each person crosses the line he or she stands up and walks. Some dancers, walking, sink into a crawl again. A few of these are picked up halfway down and carried off like babies held aloft in their fathers' arms, feet flexed and arms outstretched. Others are carried in that way, then set down gently to make their way on the ground. The rhythm of the music (the second movement of Schumann's Quintet in E flat for piano and strings) is funereal, but not grim. There's something very determined about it, and that sinking and standing has something in it of hope. Morris has dedicated the piece, very simply, "to the City of New York."

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