Mark Morris is a master of surprises—not so much the rabbits-out-of-hats kind, but the gentler ones that arise from his diverse choices of music and unexpected strategies. The first of his company’s BAM programs last week began with the 1982 New Love Song Waltzes (Brahms’s Neue Liebeslieder Waltzer, op. 65, ravishingly played, sung, and embodied onstage), which was followed by the raunchy Going Away Party to taped songs by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. The late Lou Harrison’s Serenade for Guitar allows for optional percussion. Morris not only had Stefan Schatz accompany guitarist Oren Fader with subtle drumbeats and finger cymbals, but elected, in the solo’s last and best section, to don castanets and skillfully punctuate the guitar as a lusty, go-for-broke, semi-flamenco dancer, spraddling the music as if it were a horse to ride in on.
The surprises within a piece may be profound compositional devices or simply irregularities. Early in Waltzes, three people sit to watch John Heginbotham and Maile Okamura dance. Afterward, two get up, but Daniel Leventhal lies down for a second before rising, as if he needed time to think things over. In the magnificent V (to Schumann’s Quintet in E-flat), movement you’ve seen performed by one or another squad of seven is suddenly, entrancingly doubled, as members of both “V”s execute the fluid interchanges simultaneously. And who but Morris would have dreamed of echoing the heavy chords of the second movement with staccato lizard-like crawls, as if sea creatures were marching onto the land, evolving as they go?
The four new-to-New York works are smart and bright, if not on a par with V, Waltzes, and last year’s sublime Foursome (wonderfully executed by Heginbotham, Morris, Shawn Gannon, and Guillermo Resto). Morris is a rich performer, and I think I’d have relished his dancing with supple arms, glistening metal pipe, fan, finger cymbals, and castanets in Michael Chybowski’s magical lighting if it hadn’t been for Isaac Mizrahi’s costume (the long black skirt was handsome, but the white wraparound top tied in a bow at the back was distractingly unbecoming).
Resurrection‘s costumes show Mizrahi at his best: black-and-white striped or checkered or polka-dotted suits for all. Morris has abstracted the scenario originally set by Balanchine for “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s On Your Toes, about a murder and a foiled shooting in a lowlife club. All the dancing couples wield two-finger guns and indulge in neat, identically timed punches, as well as lounging like bathing beauties and kicking like can-can girls (only lying in a circle). Okamura gets killed almost immediately, but bourrées wanly through at intervals while Bradon McDonald searches for her without success. The punchline: She comes to life in time to shoot him, and they both fall, but everyone lives happily ever after anyway, the pair smooching atop a wedding cake made of their pals. Morris lite.
Kolam is more interesting. The music (some pieces by percussion master Zakir Hussain, some by pianist Ethan Iverson) has an Indian aura and raga structures; the cello slides mournfully like a vina. A vivid painting by Howard Hodgkin (a curved red-and-golden slash over blue, as if painted by the finger of a giant child) is wilder than the decorative designs the dancers build. They begin with yoga poses, like downward and upward dog, elegantly orchestrated by Morris, and evolve into a gradually enlarging circle of loops and skeins—a danced equivalent of Tamil ceremonial floor paintings made with colored powder. During the last part of the piece, the dancers wear ankle bells that amplify their juicy stamping.
I’d like to see Something Lies Beyond the Scene again. It’s set to Façade, the enchantingly daffy collaboration between poet Edith Sitwell and composer William Walton. I’m disposed to love it. The readers in the pit (Morris, Gannon, Boyd, and Marjorie Folkman) could not always be heard over the instruments, and occasionally articulation foundered in the fusillade of Sitwell’s rhythmic, half-sung words. We heard tantalizing traces: the military “When Don Pasquito went down to the seaside . . . ,” the dreamy “We bear velvet cream/Soft and baby-ish. . . . ” Morris chose to echo some of the lovely nonsensical poems quite literally. A group of blue trees becomes an elephant for Lauren Grant to ride in “Lullaby for Jumbo.” To “See me dance the polka . . . ” Heginbotham exuberantly starts, and others attach themselves to him until he’s galloping along with a polka-ing blob at his heels.
The dancers are all marvelously musical. I’d like to salute four who, always excellent, seem bursting with new life and intelligence: Heginbotham, Okamura, Matthew Rose, and Michelle Yard.
You could be fascinated by Yasuko Yokoshi’s Shuffle whether or not you’d read Japanese creation myths, but you might miss some resonance. The two hands that reach for each other across a video sea might be those of the drowned relatives Yokoshi later embodies, or Lord Izanagi reaching for his sister-mate Izanami as she slides into the Underworld. The rocks that hold video images could signal the seaside or the great rock with which Izanagi shielded himself from the enraged Izanami, who pursued him from the Underworld, hideously transformed. Myths have a way of migrating across cultural divides; Izanami is related to both Eurydice and Persephone.
Yokoshi enters the small downstairs space at P.S.122 as a goddess demon—wild hair; red pasties on her nipples; a waistband that’s both obi and corset; and, dangling from a skirt that alludes obliquely to male Kabuki costume, an immense, knee-length bush of pubic hair, which she strokes from time to time. While she dances slowly, twistily, occasionally lifting a knee Kabuki-style, the sound equipment manned by Dean Moss emits rumblings and cracklings; his video flames play over a rock. Occasionally, Yokoshi sinks into craziness, then, rising, again controls her body and face. It’s a shock when a phone rings, and she says, “Could somebody get that?” This lonely hell queen talks to her mate on a carrot phone (“I miss you too”), while getting on about the business of creating the world from what she implies are rabbit pellets produced by her stuffed toy, Hiroko. As she casually tosses the bright-colored cotton balls, she calls out, “mountain,” “river.” Much later, she straps on a huge penis, as if to embody her male half.
The piece is punctuated by Moss helping Yokoshi change costume and the taped voice of a practitioner in the Netherlands, Daniella Derghof, interpreting Yokoshi’s aura. In one scene, Yokoshi gambols about the shore like a ungainly child, bashing cotton balls with an immense fake rock, and finally sprawling back over it: an aunt who drowned. In another wonderfully imagined episode, Moss lowers a frail “boat” and Yokoshi, now dressed as the uncle whose photo appears on the back wall, climbs into it with a pole and re-enacts the boat’s wild rocking and tipping, while we hear roiling sea slapping its gunwales.
The Dutchwoman’s voice speaks soothingly of the male and female elements that, like the relatives Yokoshi channels, meet in her body’s history, just as Izanami and Izanagi mated to create wholeness.