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Flash Study, 4-17: Dido and Didi
Getting the Low-down on Morris's Guillermo Resto

Whence could so much virtue spring
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.
Guillermo 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 personal, always.

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.
Mark Morris 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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