By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
If you listen to pop music these days, you probably wag your head and jerk your shoulders with the beat. But theres other music that sets your feet tapping and makes you itch to get up and dance, whether its a Strauss waltz, a Handel gigue, or Earl Scruggs playing bluegrass. More often than most choreographers, Mark Morriswho made his first professional appearances in a convivial Balkan folkdance companychoreographs steps and patterns that make his expert and musical dancers look as if theyre doing this for their own pleasure. And for our pleasure. The Mark Morris Dance Group is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary by presenting a world premiere and two New York premieres in the James and Martha Duffy Performance Space in Brooklyns Mark Morris Dance Center.
The world premiere, which closes the program, is aptly titled Festival Dance.While pianist Colin Fowler, violinist Jesse Mills, and cellist Andrew Janss play the lovely Piano Trio No. 5 in E Major by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (a protégé of Mozart), Morris creates the image of a society of 12 celebrating love and community with garlands and vines and whirlpools of dancing.
Festival Dances opening Allegro in waltz time begins with a couple tightly embraced. That position and motifs from the ensuing gentle, happy duet for Rita Donahue and Aaron Loux recurvariedfor different performers amid a sprightly flow of dancing in which duets may become threesomes and quartets dissolve into pairs or multiply into eight-person, hand-in-hand chains. Morris is prodigious at turning one spatial pattern inside out and magicking it into something new.
Martin Pakledinaz has dressed the denizens of this contented world simply. The women wear off-white blouses and full skirts in hues ranging from dark green and maroon to charcoal gray with brown belts. The mens long-sleeved T-shirts are dark gray and their belted pants light tan. Several times, men carry their partners across the stage; the women, facing us, split their legs so they appear to be arrested in a flying leap, revealing a band of red inside the hem of their skirts.
Hummels Andante is a march, and Morris turns it into what might be a wedding celebration, with a lot of calm, easy walking. The delicious vision he constructs is that Laurel Lynch and William Smith III are each embedded in, framed by, and tenderly supported by a group of four. When the quartets divide into two diagonal lines, Lynch and Smith raise their joined hands high and, running, bridge each four-person stream (I think suddenly of a similar design in Balanchines Concerto Barocco). But the foursomes also break intermittently into couples; these folks have other fish to fry today. The final Rondoa polkaratchets up the tempo and the gaiety, but the dance ends as it began, with Donahue and Loux in each others arms.
Morriss approach to music with sung lyrics can vary intriguingly. Sometimes his choreography mimics the words, sometimes it focuses on the whole mood of a given song, and sometimes it plays against the text. All tactics are on view in the charming sextet, The Muir, which is set to a selection of Beethovens arrangements of Scottish and Irish folk songs (for this the three above-mentioned instrumentalists are joined by excellent singers: mezzo-soprano Irene Snyder, tenor John Matthew Myers, and baritone Jorell Williams).
In Cease your funning, addressed by the singer to other women whore flirting with her man, the dancers blow kisses, wave, and shake warning fingers. The lovely lass of Inverness (poem by Robert Burns) tells of a woman lamenting the loss of a father and three brothers. The music has the feel of a dead march, and although Amber Star Merkens is joined by the three men (Dallas McMurray, Noah Vinson, and Smith) in solemn, grieving processions, she ends alone on her knees, staring into space. Beethoven enriched and enlarges the possibilities lurking in these fragrant folk tunes, and Morris dives joyfully into the musical nuances as well as the words.
For Sally in Our Alley, he slides his tongue into his cheek. His Sally is not the
robust darling of some boys heart who lives in our valley. Celtic songs cause a mischievous person like Morris to remember the 1832 ballet La Sylphide, which was laid in Scotland, or maybe Balanchines Scottish Symphony.Although Lynch, like her friends, Merkens and Michelle Yard, is wearing a glamorous, full-skirted black dress (by Elizabeth Kurtzman) with colored ribbon patterns on the bodice hinting at plaid, shes no ordinary neighborhood girl. Lynch drifts in and out, suspending herself in wafty arabesques while Vinson and McMurray dance ardently about, often not seeing her, and on the words, my heart, they make clutching gestures above their manly chests. Vinson tosses off some airy pas de chats himself.
The choreographers other New York premiere, Petrichor, is set to a score thats less limpid and fluid: Heitor Villa-Loboss 1917 String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56. (Philip Kramp, viola, and Omar Guey, violin, join Mills and Janss). Its full of sweet, restrained dissonances and, like many string quartets, dense with related sounds, sometimes almost sandpapery in texture.