Theater archives

Men and Their Music


Music holds Mark Morris in a tight embrace.

He investigates every cranny of a score. The choreography for his stunning new All Fours accedes to the sudden silences, harsh jolts of sound, tight clusters, and deconstructed folk motifs of Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4. Staying close together, eight dancers in black and brown street clothes (by Martin Pakledinaz) embark on themes that Morris works throughout the piece: hands clasped overhead, a thumbs-up gesture, a jump with arms outspread like wings, and more. The choreography’s imaginative clarity in space and emphatic steps have something in common with modern dance of the late ’20s and early ’30s. Nicole Pearce’s lighting strikes forcefully too. A red backdrop suddenly turns deep blue, and the stage chills; then the red returns. Some changes last only seconds.

Quartet sections for dancers in white interrupt and overlap those for the eight. Morris is one modern-dance choreographer who can keep feet as imaginatively busy as arms and torsos. There’s a fast dance for Craig Biesecker and Bradon McDonald and an even faster one for Marjorie Folkman and Julie Worden to an Allegretto Pizzicato. Their feet fly. The passages for all four are more haunting. Three times McDonald chases Folkman around Worden; Worden catches his hand and holds him back while Folkman rushes on and is caught by Biesecker in a midair run. Two sit and watch the others like kids being told a story; Folkman and McDonald stroll upstage while Worden and Biesecker have a private moment. Both sets of magnificent performers mingle in the last section as Morris builds unison power in his fierce society.

The music for Violet Cavern by the Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, bass; and David King, percussion) offers short, lively sections that cleverly allude to jazz, rock, Latin, and pop without being any of these. Morris shows his compositional skill almost obsessively. When the piece starts beneath Stephen Hendee’s small, stylish black-and-white banners, Michelle Yard creates a slow, deliberate frieze of gestures that carry her across a stage of supine bodies. Other women feed in. Morris takes these poses through myriad variations: They’re done lying down, spinning, in lifts, by partners facing each other, by three clustered men, etc. There are brilliant interpolations and secondary themes, like a person walking, grasping the hands of two who propel themselves lying down; or a duet on the floor in which one dancer keeps hold of another’s ankle. Given the piece’s many climaxes and blackouts, I begin to feel as if Morris is manipulating a Rubik’s Cube and can’t bear to put it down.

Peter Martins’s two new works for the “American Music” portion of New York City Ballet’s Balanchine centennial could scarcely be more different from each other. He has adroitly adapted to Balanchine’s idea of the choreographer as journeyman and the ballet master as one who creates in part to fill a repertory need.

I’m not sure why Chichester Psalms was needed. Yes, Balanchine did occasionally create choral works that were more like pageants than ballets, but neither he nor Lincoln Kirstein cared much for Leonard Bernstein’s music. Using 38 dancers and 60-plus members of the Juilliard Choral Union on a semicircle of risers, Martins creates a spare paean to harmony, although the 12 men in long black garments are occasionally boisterous—thrusting and lunging, chests open to heaven, arms lifted. When the nations rage in Psalm 2 (the words are sung in Hebrew), the men pair up contentiously, and women, wearing wrapped white gowns by Catherine Barinas, flutter among them spreading peace. Bourrées are one of the few steps in which pointe shoes don’t clash with the style of the piece. When the words are hopeful, boy soprano James Danner’s voice floats out.

Martins manipulates his dozen men and 24 women in expressive poses and processions, trios, and devout circles. They kneel while Carla Körbes and Amar Ramasar perform a slow duet, and join the pair in a display of partnered poses. Passion is contained by form: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

Eros Piano is a fine small-scale ballet to music for piano and orchestra by Martins’s favorite composer, John Adams (Richard Moredock was the excellent soloist). Hints of a hallowed theme—the searching hero (Nikolaj Hübbe) beguiled by nymphs—are enhanced by Mark Stanley’s cool beams of light and Holly Hynes’s unitards in shades of blue-green for Alexandra Ansanelli and Ashley Laracey. Like any trio, Eros Piano also suggests a man with two women to choose between.

To begin, each of the three dances alone in a corridor of light. Is it because Martins and Hübbe are both Danes that the steps fit the dancer so marvelously? Hübbe’s first bold cross, with its dynamic variety, shifts of direction and impetus, and suggestions of temperament makes your heart beat faster. The women come and go. Laracey appears behind him; when she spirals into a back bend he catches her, transfixed. She goes and Ansanelli walks into his arms. Eventually both women are twining around him—almost more yielding, more malleable, more insistent than he can manage. Then they’re gone and he’s alone—calm, empty-handed.

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