Dance Archives

Mark Morris’s Good-Time Variations on Romance Impress at Lincoln Center


Mark Morris finds inspiration in music, and this weekend’s bill at the Rose Theater provides a particularly rich and diverse collection, all played live — including Brahms’s Liebeslieder-Walzer, performed in German, and a suite of Monteverdi madrigals sung in Italian. The orchestra pit overflows with singers, pianists, and an ensemble of “early musicians” playing the lute, harpsichord, and theorbo.

This Mostly Mozart program’s world premiere, The Trout, to the 35-minute Piano Quintet in A major by Franz Schubert, provides a luxuriant playing field on which eleven barefoot dancers gambol. Its five women wear Maile Okamura’s pretty, translucent party dresses, each a different color; the six men are in neutral tank tops and dance trousers. Lighting designer Nick Kolin washes the cyclorama with shifting shades of blue and green.

The work opens with performers arriving onstage and clapping one another on the back, as if meeting again after a long time apart; some clasp hands. They enter and exit to the wings of the wide stage, almost shyly, assaying the center of the space and darting out again. Finally managing to mingle, they begin spinning, a motif that continues through the piece. Morris seems determined to exploit all the stage levels, with dancers sometimes leaping and sometimes lying on the ground, demonstrating both lightness and weight.

Morris never forgets that he’s in show business: His works, presentational even at their most intimate, seem aimed at giving us a good time. The dancers achieve precision but never succumb to affectation; they’re human beings, not gods and goddesses, and their vocabulary includes ordinary walking and running steps as well as energetic lifts and barrel turns. The Trout is full of incident, with little variations for groups of five, four, three, and two, as well as plaintive solos; we’re not watching storytelling, but observing choreography that illuminates musical structure in much the same way that George Balanchine’s dances do.

Filling out this satisfying evening are appealing performances of Morris’s 1989 Love Song Waltzes, made during the troupe’s sojourn in Brussels, and the 1996 I Don’t Want to Love. Smooth and angular by turns, Waltzes affords us glimpses of veteran dancer Lauren Grant among an ensemble composed of both old-timers and newbies, and of course glorious sequences of a dozen dancers whirling in one another’s arms. In I Don’t Want to Love, the diminutive Grant seems to grow in stature, becoming an in-house Wonder Woman in Isaac Mizrahi’s shiny white bare-midriff outfit; Brandon Randolph claims space in a shirt open to the waist. It’s a bit of a shock to one’s system to move so quickly from listening to German to hearing lyrics in Italian, but the dancers weather the transition well, occasionally erupting into cartwheels. They leap, they stroll, they make impudent gestures; at one point, sitting on the floor, they reach out to one another with bare feet; later, they alternate between kneeling and reaching their heads toward the sky, but they resolutely refuse to meet and meld. This is, after all, a piece about refusing romance. Lesley Garrison, a rangy blonde in a long slit skirt, constantly grabs the eye.

Morris delights in off-kilter structures, and in displaying body parts — elbows, for instance — that don’t often get attention on dance stages; his métier is a fusion of folk, ballet, and modern idioms that manages to appear entirely natural. He’s taken, in recent months, to preparing dances for cold storage, as it were, ready to resuscitate after he’s gone — but he’s just 61. Has working on the Schubert spooked him? The Viennese composer only made it to 31.

Mark Morris Dance Group
Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center
Broadway at 60th Street
Through August 12