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Like beautiful children: Mark Morris Dance Group.

Happy Anniversary

By Mae G. Banner

Mark Morris Dance Group

The Egg, April 15

For the 25th anniversary of the Mark Morris Dance Group, Morris has revived 15 of his solosóshiny pebbles in an edifice of grand ensemble works. As he nears his 50th birthday, the dance maker has begun to pass these solos on to other dancers, and we saw two of them Saturday in the groupís concert at the Egg.

Peccadilloes (2000) was danced by Joe Bowie, whose hunky body and open chest resemble Morrisís physique. Bowie flung himself totally into the miniature dances, almost channeling Morris as he moved to Erik Satieís pieces composed for a toy piano.

The dance is a bit of childís play, totally involving. Bowie, a toy soldier in a red body-suit with gold stripes across his chest, mimed galloping, shooting, and surrendering to a foe, while Steven Beck sat scrunched at the onstage toy piano, looking like Peanutsí Schroeder. Peccadilloes looked to be invented on the spot, the way a child is immersed in a game, but I think itís also Morrisís take on Petrouchka, the puppet with a soul.

Bradon McDonald, whoís been with the Morris group for only six years, is coming to the center as an inspired interpreter of the choreographerís deceptively simple dances. McDonald danced Three Preludes (1992) with Beck playing Gershwinís bluesy, jazzy laments on a full-size piano in the pit.

Smoothly garbed in Isaac Mizrahiís black pants and V-neck sweater with a minstrelís white gloves and black ballet slippers, McDonald twirled with dizzying arms going one way while his body went another. Embodying the music, he became a Fourth of July sparkler, a sad ballet dancer with an inner slump but a still-balletic torso. His moves seemed inevitable: brushes with his foot to four directions in turn, a tilted body in a primitive arabesque, a curled back and a little jump-turn that recalled the artistry of Bert Williams.

Different as they were in mood and music, the two solos had in common Morrisí connection to the wisdom of childhood. His choreography dives deep into the music and lets it move the dancer into exaltation.

The program opened and closed with familiarly communal works. Rock of Ages (2004) is a dance for four to the adagio movement of Schubertís Piano trio in E flat, performed by Beck, with Jennifer Curtis, violin; and Wolfram Koessel, cello. The costumes are stunningly simple daytime skirts and pants of glowing blue-green, navy blue and purple, lit with an undersea look by Nicole Pearce.

The dancers seemed to be seeking (for truth, for peace, for human connection?) as they took slow, thoughtful steps, met in pairs, separated and reconfigured with new partners. A dancer would suddenly open his palm or touch another on the shoulder, sometimes with the childís swift magic touch that brings the other person to life.

In a repeated motif, dancers stood with their backs to us in the pose of Degasí child dancer, hands clasped behind their backs, heads tilted upward, reading the skies. Itís a gesture of shyness, youth, or diffidence, and it makes you love them as you wonder what theyíre thinking.

It was good to see Gloria (1981; revised 1984) again. Company members joke that this ensemble dance to Vivaldiís anthem is done in Morrisís ďancient style,Ē which means that, compared to Rock of Ages, say, it is heavier, the bodies more awkward, and the searching that drives it more labored.

The newest work, Candleflowerdance (2005) is dedicated to the late Susan Sontag, a friend and fan of Morris. Six dancers moved to piano music of Stravinsky, tracing a path inside and outside the boundaries of a lit rectangle taped off in white. It could have been a miniature tennis court or an open grave awaiting the lowering of the coffin. Large candles were set downstage and a vase of flowers in the shadows upstage, again suggesting the props of a funeral.

The dancers performed everyday gestures of mourning, covering their eyes with their palms or meeting in pairs to comfort each other. One woman circled her arms around another in a wide hoop, starting at her partnerís waist and moving the circle upward until she was embracing empty air above her partnerís head.

Candleflowerdance had noble intentions, but didnít live up to them. Iím looking forward to more reprises of rarely seen solos that Morris will bring to Jacobís Pillow in August.


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