Mark Morris Dance Group
Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival
Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall
July 10, 2019
Swooping and Soaring To and Against the Music
Watching Mark Morris’ dancers swoop and soar in V, (the number five, a reference to the number of musicians playing Schumann’s Quintet in E-flat major) was entirely thrilling. There are no stars in the company so the group has to work very hard—they do but it doesn’t show. The work is a pure representation of dance integrity. There are lots of V’s in it, some conveyed by outstretched arms brought forward folding in, a movement that repeats often. At times, the company, half clad in ice blue shorts and tops that ended in a sort of V, the other half in pale green rompers, all by Martin Pakledinaz, seemed entirely jubilant. This feeling contrasted sharply with the middle section when the dancers crawled on their toes and hands, ultimately arising. It was a little puzzling but possibly signaled a reference to the upward nobility of humankind. At the very end, partners almost embraced, glorying in the joy of being together and sharing that exhilaration with the audience. The work is so life-affirming it’s no wonder that the bows went on a long time.
The world premiere of Sport, based on Eric Satie’s Sports et Divertissements, builds on a series of very short, evanescent piano works, beautifully played by Colin Fowler. The dancers hunt, fish, play tennis (complete with grunts when racquets meet balls) and toboggan when the dancers lie on their backs using hip thrusts to propel themselves forward. Sometimes dancers were dragged across the stage on sheets, in nods to swimming and kayaking. Horseback riding incorporated small hand gestures that entirely fit the music. I found yachting especially delightful, delighted by the ship with a cloth sail draped over bodies and a figurehead at the prow, moving forward with sustained deliberation. Other sports included Blind Man’s Bluff, dancing the tango with several male couples and picnicking, (which I never thought of as a sport.) In the final moments , a nod to golf, dancers drove their balls and putted, ending as one dancer made a miserable shot and yelled “shit!” The dancing perfectly fit the whimsical music. Sport is sweetly amusing and as airy as a cream puff although I doubt if Satie (or Mark Morris) would have acknowledged that.
Empire Garden sounds like the name of a Chinese restaurant but instead it was a complex work set to the Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, S. 86 by Charles Ives. The composer labeled the second movement TSIAJ, saying that the acronym stood for “this scherzo is a joke.” Further compounding the task, he wove folk songs, hymns and collegiate music into the piece including snatches of My Old Kentucky Home, The Campbells Are Coming, Long, Long Ago and Dixie.
This old world nod in an intensely contemporary work was deepened by Elizabeth Kurtzman’s costumes, a riot of primary colors that evoked a marching band and/or military drills or well-rehearsed cheerleaders. Lots of side bends and raised knees along with angular jumps and shimmies stressed modernity while the oddly evocative music sometimes worked against the dancing. This is a sustained work although it didn’t have as much dancing as the other two that made up the evening, making it stand out as a bit of an oddity. In fairness, I’m not an Ives fan which may account for part of my confusion.
The Mark Morris Dance Group is a wonder particularly as it is made of dancers of different body types and shapes that come together in splendid unity. The American String Quartet and the MMDG Music Ensemble also get top marks for interpretation and handling. As the final curtain rang down with Morris making his typically theatrical bow the audience went wild over the icing on a delicious, unusual cake.
MMDG was the lead event in this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. Once again, the event extends across all genres to include masterworks of music, dance and theater created and performed by some of the world’s most visionary and virtuosic artists.