Relearning Morris Oct 5, 2012
As a young dancer, I grew up watching Mark Morris Dance Group and the White Oak Project; Mikhail Baryshnikov dominated my world in ballets, as a modern dancer, in movies, and as the face of a perfume. Thus, watching the MMDG last night was a blast from the past -- even though all but one piece were choreographed in recent years.
I'll admit, it took me some time to adjust. I was thrilled to witness this work in a much more intimate setting but as the show began I felt disappointment. Maybe it was because we were at On the Boards, where I have come to expect a different sort of performance. Certainly, my own changing tastes over the years affected how I viewed the work. Also, decades of viewing and performing in dances strongly influenced by Mark Morris have left his style feeling over done, played out. It just felt so... dated.
But as I settled in, I rediscovered the beauty and humor that propelled Mark Morris into the dance stratosphere to begin with. I was reminded that his influence on so many other choreographers is because Mark Morris is a master at being Mark Morris.
An oft repeated statement from Morris kept returning to me: "I am a musician and my medium is dancing." Yes! His musicality is a driving force. The complexities of the music are embodied, woven visually through the space, particularly in large group pieces like "Petrichor" and "Grand Duo." In these pieces the patterns of each dancer interplay so craftily that the group becomes an organism in itself. The movement is frequently large and sweeping, in a controlled and subdued manner. Live music brings an electricity to the dancers' performance. The final section of "Group Duo," (the oldest and my favorite of the night) is intense and exhilarating. The rhythm, relentlessness, and reoccurring wide low stances fleetingly reminded me of our own Zoe Scofield.
The movement in the evening's world premiere, "A Wooden Tree," is pedestrian in contrast. The piece rests on the adorable humor of the music and words by Ivor Cutler. It is light and fun and got a lot of laughs. The ensemble included Mikhail Baryshnikov, as simple as that.
Except for the fact that he is Baryshnikov, so I kept being drawn back to him. He is beautiful. There are several low arabesques in his choreography and each time I was struck that there's no mistaking that silhouette. He'd blend in with the group, and then: Boom! BARYSHNIKOV.
I enjoyed the night, and left with so much to think about. This weekend is a real treat for Seattle. Thank you On the Boards and MMDG.