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Flash Review 2, 1-12: Meet the REAL Mr. Music
Morris at the New Victory Shows it's STILL The Music

By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2000 Tom Patrick

It's still the music...one appreciates earliest at a concert of Mark Morris Dance Group, or any performance of Morris's works....My first glance at the playbill in my cozy perfect seat for Tuesday night's MMDG concert at the New Victory foretold of a 'cello-piano duet by Schumann,' a 'trio for violin, viola and cello,' a piano work, and so on, and that four of the five selections would be performed live. Sure enough, I looked and discovered the musicians' set-ups in the lowest parts of the far aisles right and left---pretty savvy in this intimate house that has no pit. This was to be a double treat, sure enough: live acoustic music with the dances, company and appearance of a supremely musical creator, Mark Morris.

Another look at the program revealed that the first work, "My Party" (1984), predated all the others on the evening's offering by fourteen years. Look out! That in itself has gotta tell you this is no flash in the pan. (If you've managed NOT to hear of Mark Morris by now, it's a good idea to really thank whoever recommended this concert to you or brought you here...). I first saw Mark and his company around that time ('85 actually), when I was a student at Jacob's Pillow. How perfectly "My Party" evokes my recollection of that experience!

The dance begins with a lovely canon entrance of four pairs of dancers, cavorting linked and filling the scene immediately with lovely evocations of the humming strings (Sarah Roth, Jessica Troy, and Matt Haimovitz, playing the Trio in C by Jean Francaix.) This dance is a clear indication of the great musical sympathy and intuitive understanding (revealing great love) Mark has for music. "My Party" is full of evidence of that understanding, as the choreography launches non-stop views of Morris's delight and curiosity in elements of musical organization and "dynamics" (and of course, that of the long line of very very distinguished dancers that has been a part of his timeline!). So rarely do we see work so well woven with its aural partner, and here his inventiveness with theme and variation, and the naked simplicity of the structure, make it seem hardly surprising that he's been compared to other prodigies and geniuses for a long time now, linked by a musical feeling rare enough to categorize....Dancing splendidly here: Joe Bowie, Lauren Grant, and June Omura.

A-hem! Don't think, though, that this is to simply be a fawning tribute to Mark Morris...I want to indicate how nice it was to see this early work beginning this concert, that its choice (from so many possibilities!) was a good one. The dancing itself, as I believe it always is, was the essential experience though. For joy implied is only that, but joy witnessed is undeniable, and the dancers of the MMDG share MM's joy of music and his curiosity about movement. They reveled in the canonic accumulation of energy, the snaking handholds, the jubilation of it, bursting out there on opening night---Bravi!

After a brief pause, 1999's "The Argument" began. Mr. Haimovitz and Ethan Iverson duked it out on cello and piano as Julie Warden and Charlton Boyd arrived onstage for a deft (and so silent!) scrap. The sparse costumes--coming "on the heels" of "My Party"'s frou-frous--proved almost jarring to me, as say a Balanchine's "Agon" might look following his "Scotch Symphony." This was a long flash-forward along the timeline to a sparser, "leaner" look, more economical in gesture, whittled-to-the-essentials. From the first instant. Glorious Tina Fehlandt took the stage next, joined by Mr. Morris in a wonderfully understated argument, natural and potent. A refreshing lesson here (from prime sources) is the appropriate effort they (and certainly the whole Company) embody that makes their actions onstage as natural as speech itself. The final pair to appear was Marjorie Folkman and Shawn Gannon, tearing it up and flashing us a frozen moment's glimpse of beautiful living sculpture. Their three individual arguments, six personal vocabularies and temperatures were very compelling, but in that head I was soon wondering about their integrations into beyond-duos, and Mr. Morris lost me there. Choreographically the characters dancing retained their individuality throughout, thankfully, so we were taken from a private to public/social situations ultimately, and the permutations could become dizzying. The dancing was stellar--heroic in gesture with an enviably tossed-off effortlessness.

After intermission, a treat: MM dancing solo, in "Greek To Me," a New York premiere. It was the concert's only recorded accompaniment: Studies on Ancient Greek Scales from "Eleven Intrusions" by Harry Partch, sounding intriguingly "Japanese" to me in their tonality (no musicologist I!). Posed in stalwart silhouette (all of the evening's tightly-cued lighting was designed by Michael Chybowski), Mr. Morris was revealed in Greco-wear by Elizabeth Kurtzman, and he began to dance....I will only describe his luminous solo as "a quasi-folk-dance," but of course it is not so simple. Mark Morris has a background (all the way back, maybe) in folk dance, and to go further than I have in "critiquing" this one might be as presumptuous as second-guessing Tiger Woods on his golf-swing. Suffice it to say that it is a great treat to see the genesis in action, gloriously, simply, musically inevitable. Any opportunity to see the choreographic source of a great company is precious, and any ticket for a show where Mark dances one of his solos is a sure winner.

Immediately after was "Silhouettes" from 1999, another NYC premiere. As Richard Cumming's music (also entitled "Silhouettes," live again from the keyboard through Mr. Iverson) began, I was very gratified to see Joe Bowie again, beginning in another strong--you guessed it--silhouette. What are those pants?, I wondered. Then Matthew Rose entered, wearing the tops of the pajamas, and I caught the subtle tone of compliments that would follow. Mssrs. Bowie and Rose cavorted together and in juxtaposition, tossing off phrase after effortless phrase of dancing that was tinged with classicism but fresher. (A real bonus to see this casting pair! J. Bowie is a wonder of speed and fullness, with a beacon of a smile.)

Closing the program was 1998's "Dancing Honeymoon," accompanied (live of course, with vocalist Eileen Clark backed up my Ms. Roth, Mr. Iverson, and John Hollenbeck on percussion) by nostalgic tunes like "Someone To Watch Over Me" and many less familiar (to me.) Nice to see Mirielle Radwan-Dana at last, and certainly Ruth Davidson too! In this work, "nice" music is personified in many ways. In addition to the seven cast members, three black folding chairs are found onstage, and all the way through it is an ensemble of ten! The fourteen musical selections are grafted into a medley so thoroughly inhabited by dance, that it's slyly simplistic, humorous certainly but more than that. The choreography winks to us repeatedly on the surface, but underneath it all there is a roiling whirlpool of business going on, as people and chairs launch into and through some very complicated (yet "simple," again) terrain, all economical and with that natural sense of timing that may as well be MM's signature. Delightful!

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