writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Morris's World

George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia
October 10, 2003

by Clare Croft
© 2003

Today, as many emerging choreographers turn to rock music for inspiration and dance companies turn to rock to excite young audiences, Mark Morris’ s Gloria, done to Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria in D, proves that classical music can inspire the best in the young artist and thrill the young audience member. Morris made his lush masterpiece at 25, only a year after founding the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) in 1980. Even though the George Mason University Chamber Orchestra and Chorus bumbled through some of Vivaldi’s score on Friday night, the combination of Morris’ choreography with Vivaldi’s music still brought many of the college-aged audience members to their feet.

In Gloria, Morris’s gorgeous choreography matches Vivaldi’s pulsating praise to the heavens. Again and again the dancers open their arms wide, thrusting their chests forward. Their feet click against each other in bent-legged, skimming leaps and their faces show glimpses of smiles as they heel-scoot in circles. Each of these moments and so many more make pleasure palpable, showing how dance can provide visual renderings of joy.

The extent of emotion becomes most tangible when Morris juxtaposes a solo of adulation with a burdensome or pedestrian group in the background. At one point a quartet of two men and two women lean on each other in a contorted group, but each takes a turn moving away to zoom through luxurious phrases that repeat the open arm motif. Later, a male dancer (on Friday Joe Bowie, who unfortunately stumbled through several turns) performs a swirling solo against a backdrop of ensemble members who walk across the back of the stage, as though walking down the street.

The solo’s relationship to the mundane, but brisk, backdrop of the walking corps gives the sense that the man’s dance occurs within a world much bigger than himself, much bigger than even the stage. I find this a hallmark of Morris’s work. He relates entrances and exits to the center stage choreography in such a way that the dance always seems to happen as part of a whole. Morris’s dancers enter the stage as though they have come from somewhere and are going somewhere as they exit.

Though Going Away Party, which opened the Friday performance, has a completely different content than Gloria, entrances and exits have the same effect. The dancers slip in and out of the wings, sometimes leaving most of the stage blank. Morris peeks into a country beer joint, where seven dancers romp through a playful succession of tucked-under hips to the twangs of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Going Away Party shows Morris’s crass side, most notably when he plays on the lyrics “lips on lips.” Men hoist the women up, male lips to female crotch. From such a deft choreographer, the pun seems only a slightly more inventive comment on sex than MTV video fare.

In the brief, but entertaining The Spell, Morris redeems himself in a closing duet of love, lust and tenderness that is much sexier than Going Away Party’s comedy. Amber Merkens lies atop of Matthew Rose; their hands clasp and a soft wave passes along their arms. Merkens was particularly beautiful in the rest of the duet, especially when delicately offering her legs and feet to Rose.

The third dancer in the The Spell, Bradon McDonald as a Puck-like male fairy with wings that look like stuffed pillows, also gets to enjoy his sexuality. In most versions of Midsummer Night’s Dream, which must form the inspiration for this work, Puck as supernatural creature and adolescent boy is stripped of sexual longings. He focuses instead on the romantic entanglements of the human, heterosexual couples. Morris’ Puck gets his sexuality back; he relishes in it, groping and kissing both Merkens and Rose all over.

The program also included the relatively new All Fours, which premiered in September in Berkeley. The newer work uses Bela Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4, a tight and constrained piece that was a brave choice for Morris. The large cast, some dressed in all white, some in all black, gave the impression that the work was about something deeper, but I could not discern what. Instead, I chose to take the dancers’ hands across either their own mouths or each others’ mouths as parallel to the music. They withheld their voices, just as Bartók withheld any extra notes from the music.

In the large group sections, Parts I and V, the dancers moved as though shaken by unseen hands. The three central sections took a more careful movement approach. On the whole, the dance seemed more a visual rendering of Bartok’s music, rather than a statement or emotional stance.

Photo: Members of the Mark Morris Dance Company in All Fours.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 3
October 13, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by Clare Croft




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Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on October 7, 2003