Dancing a Century's Music

A choreographer with a musical ear plumbs the limits

Naturally, there is contention for leadership and other forms of struggle. People try to brace the objects up like flagpoles; they attempt to climb them. Milhaud's music provides ironic whiffs of civilization in its jazz riffs for alto sax, and Morris echoes the naiveté of 1920s European Afro chic in a profiled walk with hips swinging rhythmically forward and back. Religion, interestingly, seems to come a cropper. Biesecker ends up crushed beneath the poles, and, after poking him cautiously, everyone scuttles off in fear, behaving as if a return to a more innocent state might be a good idea.

The five-movement All Fours (2003) is another austere piece. Through Bartók's sudden silences, contrasts of forcefulness and delicacy, tightly coiled clusters of sound, and hints of Hungarian folk dance, Morris weaves a bold and stunning group rite for 12 dancers—an essay on melding quartets. Pearce's sudden changes of light create enigmatic drama, as does the device of separating the group into eight people in black and brown clothes and four dressed in white (costumes by Martin Pakledinaz). The odd, strutting walks of the eight, their rippling arms and praying hands, contrast with the behavior of the four (a rapid skittering duet by Biesecker and McDonald, an even faster allegro by Worden and Marjorie Folkman, and the significant way in which two, several times, almost formally, cover each other's mouths).


Mark Morris Dance Group
Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn
Through Saturday

To end the evening, all onstage and in the audience let down their hair. Here comes another sort of classic 20th-century music. Morris's 1990 romp Going Away Party is set to Western Swing hits created by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys between 1935 and 1973 and played live at BAM by the Western Caravan. Morris loves and honors this music too, and his choreography recreates a Saturday night dance with lusty couples, guys peeing out back behind the barn, and women showing them a thing or two. The choreography plays funky movement games with queries like, "Seen my milk cow?" Charlton Boyd takes Morris's former part as the odd man out who's leaving town, ingeniously woven into a square dance, and all but forgotten in the evening's revelry. Grant and David Leventhal, Worden and Heginbotham, Okamura and Gregory Nuber, all decked out in western finery by Christine Van Loon, play flirtation and dance fever with gusto, and as the terrific band swings into "When You Leave Amarillo, Turn Out the Lights," you realize the evening's ending and wish it wouldn't.

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