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Study, 4-17: Dido and Didi
Getting the Low-down on Morris's Guillermo Resto
Whence could so much
What storms, what battles did he sing
-- Nat. Tate, libretto
for Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas," 1689
By Nancy Dalva
Copyright 2003 Nancy Dalva
At one time Mark Morris
planned to play all of the lead roles in his "Dido and Aeneas,"
which was first performed in Brussels in 1989. (It apparently was
originally, in composer Henry Purcell's day, performed by an all-girl
cast at a gentlewoman's school, so the notion wasn't altogether
far-fetched.) Ultimately, Morris brilliantly ceded Aeneas to Guillermo
Resto, whose nickname is "Didi." For himself, Morris kept the White
Swan/Black Swan duo of the Carthaginian Queen and the Sorceress
who brings about her doom. They were a fabulous couple, Dido and
Didi, utterly convincing, with Resto's ardent and sovereign portrayal
of the Trojan hero epitomizing the traditional masculine. He performed
bare-chested, his heroic dreadlocks caught in a tail at the nape
of his neck. In Resto, Morris found his perfect straight man.
Resto and Mark Morris in Morris's "Dido and Aeneas." Cylla Von
Tiedmann photo courtesy Mark Morris Dance Group.
Morris later made a
thrilling cave-man stomp to Lou Harrison's "Grand Duo" called "Polka,"
which he had everyone moving like Resto -- full bodied, clear-cut,
vigorous, and totally invested. (The 1992 work was incorporated
the following year into the longer dance named for the music.) This
last quality -- total investment in the material -- has made Resto
the essential Morris dancer. It is the essential Resto quality.
He had it the first time I saw him, in a really dreadful dance (not
by Morris) in which he had to -- if memory serves -- jump through
a paper hoop wearing a white-fringed cowboy outfit. (He did this
with great dignity.) He has it today.
This year marks Resto's
20th anniversary with the Mark Morris Dance Group. Those dreadlocks
are grey now. Dido has grown portly, and Didi grizzled, but there's
still something wonderful about seeing the two on stage together.
This doesn't happen often now, but in the MMDC season just held
at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, they performed in "Foursome,"
paired with two younger men. Without making a big deal about it,
this was a dance that seemed to be about something, if only about
how a little can say much.
Seeing Morris and Resto
in "Foursome" didn't afford the analytical possibility inherent
in seeing them both dance the same thing at the same time, as they
did in the unison clogging of "Home," made in 1993 to music by Michelle
Schocked and Rob Wasserman. (This sequence was preceded by the dancers
sitting down on folding chairs to exchange their shoes and socks
for clogs, which Resto did memorably, and neatly.) Seen side by
side, if a few people apart, doing the same thing, Morris and Resto
were interestingly different. Morris, of course, was the choreographer,
and his performance was inflected with ownership -- with a little
extra this, a little mordant that, a little ironic distance, and
knowingness, and commentary. (This quality can overwhelm him at
rare times -- as in his last "Dido" performances at BAM -- and turn
into camp; which isn't to say that isn't what Morris wants.) Resto
never comments. (He never seems to act, either, although he's very
good at it, in a reticent, American way.) He never distances himself
from the material. He's humorous from time to time, if the material
is humorous, but he's never knowing. He's always doing. Yet he's
You could see this most
clearly in recent years in "The Office," a forceful and grim and
ravishing dance Morris made to Antonin Dvorak's "Bagatelles for
Violin, Cello and Harmonium, Op. 47, in 1994, just a year after
he choreographed "Home." There is a plot to the dance -- people
in a waiting room, called one by one to God-knows-what by a grim
matron with a clip-board. In between her summonses, there is folk
dancing, with a kind of Balkan feeling. At one juncture, the group
is reduced to a quartet, and Morris and Resto approach each other
across the floor. Each time this happens, at every performance I've
seen, Resto smiles, and it always looks spontaneous. In the midst
of the sorrow of the dance, he is glad. He is glad to be partnering
Morris, glad to see him dancing towards him again.
In "Foursome," which
premiered at BAM in February, 2002, Morris seemed at first view
to be answering, in a way, Past/Forward, the retro-Judson program
that David Gordon directed for Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance
Project. The dance starts out with some basic maneuvers to the "Gnossienes
#1, #2, and #3" of Erik Satie, then veers into some folky flourishes
to the "Seven Hungarian Dances" of Johann Nepomuk Hummel, which
is a quick, strange musical trip. Perhaps Morris is showing the
basic post-modern mundane moves -- walk here, point there -- to
be not so different from the basics of folk dancing, which is steppy
stuff. There is indeed, as the title suggests, a cast of four --
they perform all together, or separated into duos, with a clear
division of personnel. The young and the lithe -- Shawn Gannon and
John Higinbotham, who joined MMDG in 1995 and 1998, respectively
-- are partnered by the older Morris and Resto suggesting a kind
of mentoring or coaching. In other words, they are teaching the
young dogs old tricks. (This isn't to say Morris and Resto -- now
pushing fifty -- are ancient, but they are a full dance generation
older than the others, at the least, and dancer years really are
much like dog years, aren't they ) All four men are casually dressed,
but while the younger are attired for dancing, Morris is dressed
like Christopher Robin, and Resto looks ready for a barbeque.
and Guillermo Resto in Morris's "Foursome." Stephanie Berger
photo courtesy Mark Morris Dance Group.
As time's gone by, Morris
has gotten larger, but curiously lighter. He doesn't seem to be
ruled by gravity any more, though he can throw his weight wherever
he wants to, the way a ventriloquist throws his voice -- up, down,
sideways. He floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee. (The charismatic
solo he introduced in the just concluded BAM season, named after
its Lou Harrison guitar music, "Serenade for Guitar," showed us
this and still more marvels, though Morris should lose the unflattering
white blouse designer Isaac Mizrahi has paired with a black sarong,
and go with the black top he wore at curtain calls. As it is, he
looks like a cross between Tamasuro Bando and Gertrude Stein.)
Resto is, as ever, a
low-down dancer, centered right across the hips. I may be dreaming,
but I think he's mellowed. This makes it easier to see the flow
he imparts to the steps Morris gives him, the way his arms travel
across the phrases his feet mark so cleanly. Minimalism suits him,
just as maximalism did.
You'd think that youth
could dance circles -- or would dance circles, or should dance circles
-- around age, but Morris is having none of that, as I realized
seeing "Foursome" again this year. On the contrary. "Foursome" is
ultimately a dance about how two older guys can blow two younger
ones off a stage with a flick of an eyebrow, or the fling of an
arm. "Foursome" isn't a big dance. (I suppose I can be forgiven
for wanting, when watching it, a little more.) But like any Morris
dance, it has a moral: "Age does not wither, nor custom stale."
The proper symbolic gift for a 20th anniversary is, as it happens,
china. Make the monogram "D&D."
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