Go back to Flash Reviews
Flash Review 1, 10-13:
Weightless, Bloodless, and Airtight
Mark Morris's 2-Dimensional Dancers
By Asimina Chremos
Copyright 2000 Asimina Chremos
CHICAGO -- Mark Morris
has created a singular choreographic planet that floats somewhere
between Loie Fuller, Ruth St. Denis, Isadora Duncan, 20s/30s vaudeville
numbers, campiness, and ancient tableaux vivant. Is Morris, whose
company opened last night at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the
super-brained child of a drag queen and one of the Isadorables,
brought up by a vaudeville uncle?
What struck me most in
the first few moments of watching the Mark Morris Dance Group in
"My Party" (1984) was the very specific quality of the dancing itself.
The dancers seemed to have no blood, no breath, plastic bones, and
plastic skin. Although the eight performers moved, smiled, danced,
took on forms, and changed shapes, they were like icons of people,
cartoons of people dancing in a blank field of space. It's difficult
to describe. This all sounds terribly negative, but this is just
what I observed. The movement loses inertia easily, is based in
a very quotidian energy of everybody doing tasks everyday. I found
this weightless, airtight quality was not specific to "My Party"
(despite it's Orwellian vintage), but was a stylistic constant throughout
two-dimensional energy gave a subtle, vaguely tragic overlay to
the circle dance in "My Party." Like children who had grown unaware
into adults, there was a simple body attitude that agreeably took
on the clever intricacies of the choreography without personality.
In fact as I think about it now, the issue of the actual, real personalities
of the dancers is definitely in question. What an odd way the MM
dancers have of "acting" to the dance; it seems very simplistic,
yet Morris's choreography is chock full of sophisticated satire.
The movement walks, it
skips, it floats it's arms in fey ways, it curves its spine to the
side, it stamps its foot, it goes on releve, it twirls and lays
on the floor, it plays footsy rhythm games, it leaps, it always
leaves its clear and sure mark in the space -- DID YOU SEE THAT?
And then: the eyes open wide in mock surprise and the fists shake
in mock tantrum and the head turns away in mock horror and the partners
grab each other in mock lust and mock anger.
The choreography, driven
by the music, is exceedingly formal in structure. Which is mostly
very pleasing. Everything makes sense. This world has order. We
are secure. We may not understand why adult women in pastel leotards
and crinolines and men in pastel shirts with colorful short ties
and black pants are prancing about lightly and mock ecstatically
to happy, pleasant music (Jean Francaix -- hey, LIVE music: YES!),
but certainly the choreographer has taken everything into account.
It's all fun, light, musical -- but the mood of joy is tempered
by this covert cynicism masquerading as wit. Is it really so pure,
childlike, innocent, when it lacks even a hint of chaos? No. Circle
dances and kick-lines and classical strings and folk dances and
images of couples on the floor with their feet to us, belly to belly,
one writhing on top of the other.
Ethan Iverson played
the Chopin for "Sang Froid" (1999), and he rocked my world! Damn!
I swooned to his delicate, resonant interpretation of the so-familiar
pieces. The nine dancers were dressed in black. The first of the
three black-costumed pieces of the evening. Will the years 1999
and 2000 be known at Morris's 'black period'? Ha ha ha. My favorite
moment of this piece was when one dancer was lying 'dead' on the
floor and the group began a light and rhythmic repetitious stomping,
advancing in a pack like vultures to the kill; it was a moment delightfully
morbid and silly at the same time. Edward Gorey-esque. The playfulness
of Morris's work is so stealthily crafted and designed. I keep thinking
of a child genius. Full of form and low on content and experience.
The thing is to see Morris
dance himself, as he did in "The Argument" (1999). Rather portly
of tummy, he nevertheless possesses a catlike softness and weighted
flow unique in his Group. His limbs seem well-integrated through
his center, giving even the most frivolous gesture a very sincere
and rare breed of grandiosity and generosity. Danced to music by
Schumann, "The Argument" is full of mock Eastern European flair,
mock tango energy, and mock dysfunctional couples. There was some
lovely, sensitive dancing by the six-person cast.
Isn't there ladies underwear
called Silhouettes? Is that why the women in this duet were wearing
underwear? Is that a joke? "Silhouettes" (1999) featured one tall
long dancer with long blond hair in black panties and loose button-down
shirt, and a short, more compact dancer with curly short blond hair
in a black bra and loose-fitting pants. Once again, there was a
deceptively simple musicality that masked all sorts of non-verbal
clevernesses, little jokes about the music (Richard Cumming's "Silhouettes
-- Five Pieces for Piano," Iverson again). The calm and easy energy
between these two performers (Lauren Grant and Julie Worden) was
cooling and refreshing after all the mock drama of "Sang Froid"
and "The Argument."
The final piece on the
program, "Dancing Honeymoon," is most bewildering. It's like a show
dance without a show. It's big but it's small. It's all in yellow
outfits. Seven dancers. I pegged the vintage feel of the music but
in my ignorance not the era. 20s? 40s? The songs sung by Eileen
Clark were "Transcribed and arranged by Ethan Iverson from historical
recordings of Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan." These songs
were delicious little trifles, silly as can be, yet of a complex
nature like a fancy petit-four, and so was the choreography. In
this dance for some reason the cast looked uncomfortably mature
to be parading and spoofing and goofing it up like kids at summer
stock. The choreography became for me almost neurotically whimsical,
and I felt the transparent emptiness of the dancers' expressions
was wearing through to adult reality as the evening came to a close.
back to Flash Reviews