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Flash Flashback, 8-16: Mostly Mozart, all Brilliant
Morris and Mozart Morph into Magic

By Elizabeth Zimmer
Copyright 2007 Elizabeth Zimmer

(The Dance Insider has been revisiting its Flash Archive. This article was first published on August 25, 2006. Mark Morris's "Mozart Dances" is being reprised through Saturday at the New York State Theater; tonight's performance will be broadcast live nationally by PBS at 8 p.m. Eastern time. For more on "Mozart Dances," see this Johnston Letter from Jill Johnston.)

NEW YORK -- Dance writers come in several flavors -- the ones, like Allan Ulrich of San Francisco and Alan Kriegsman of Washington, D.C., who specialize in both dance and music; the ones like Deborah Jowitt, who were themselves dancers and choreographers for years before picking up a pen; and the ones like me, who studied theater, literary criticism, and creative writing, falling in love with dance along the way. We in the third category are at a disadvantage when it comes to major dance world events like the Mostly Mozart festival's recently commissioned "Mozart Dances," a suite of three works choreographed by Mark Morris to two Mozart piano concertos, No. 11 in F major, K. 413 and No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595, played by Emanuel Ax, bracketing the Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K. 448, played by Ax and Yoko Nozaki. I'm not as familiar with this music as I probably should be, and thus I rely on Morris to show me what I'm hearing; like George Balanchine he does this well. I had a transcendent experience at this concert, seen August 17 at the New York State Theater, but I feel more like a happy amateur than like a knowledgeable critic in describing it. This season marked the 40th anniversary of the festival, the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, and, next week, Mark Morris's big 5-0 -- a moment of confluence that seems to have brought out the best in everyone. It also marked Morris's first piece to Mozart for this festival, though he's guested before, choreographing to Handel and Monteverdi.

With the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra under the baton of Louis Langrée framing these virtuosos of the keyboard, and British painter Howard Hodgkin providing simple but startling backcloths for each of the work's three sections, it was clear that the crowd was in the presence of masters. The musically knowledgeable audience lapped the whole thing up. And Morris, supported here at a level comparable to what he had in Brussels 15 years ago, turned out yards and yards of glorious ensemble dancing, for eight men and eight women deployed, separately and together, in three works that could each stand alone but that grow by association with each other. The first section focused on the women, who wore stunning black garments (their costumes, by Martin Pakledinaz, were the sort of brilliantly crafted clothing that makes you want to own every last piece). Tiny Lauren Grant was the soloist here, following the wanderings in the score, stopping short, as did most of the ensemble, to punctuate rests in the music. Morris arranged them in folk-like circles and lines, but the choreography never sat too hard on the music.

In the middle section, to the Sonata for Two Pianos, Joe Bowie in a black frock coat paced an ensemble of men wearing simple britches and open shirts; they looked like young pirates, or apprentices on their day off. Without mirroring Mozart's Sonata, they kept the stage alive, moving in twos or threes; at the very end the women, in long tutus, made a startling appearance. The final section saw the whole cast in white, and Hodgkin's backdrop resembling dabs made by a cotton ball the size of a car. The dancers were barefoot, the technique uniquely Morris's -- modern but respectful of the 18th-century score. There were moments at the very end that started out resembling the climax of Balanchine's sublime "Serenade." Here, though, lines of women carried a man held high until he jumped into the arms of another man. "Oh, my God," yelped a woman in the row in front of me. Whether she was affronted or fascinated was hard to tell. James F. Ingalls's lighting was, for the most part, invisible, which is what this particular work probably needed. What I need is weeks to lie on the couch and listen to Mozart.

The Mostly Mozart Orchestra is a young ensemble; probably many of Morris's dancers are older than the players. But the entire entourage pulled together to make this the most compelling evening of "pure dance" we've seen since the death of Balanchine. The work is heading to Vienna and London; if you missed it in New York and can get to either place, be sure to do so.

Elizabeth Zimmer reviews dance, theater, and books for New York's Metro and Gay City News, and for Dance Magazine; she also writes features for The Australian.

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