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They’re all in it together: Mark Morris Dance Group.

Dancing the Inner Child

By Mae G. Banner

Mark Morris Dance Group

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass., Aug. 26

At 50, Mark Morris still harbors his goofy inner child, the one who makes up nutty and joyous dances that are uncanny in their simplicity. Whether a dance by Morris is silly or profound (sometimes, both at once), the moves always look inevitable.

Ringing out the 74th summer at Jacob’s Pillow, Morris presented a Saturday-afternoon program that began with solos, a duet, and a trio, all pieces he had previously performed and that he’s now passing on to his eager dancers. These small delights were followed by Gloria (1981, revised 1984), a sublime ensemble work to Vivaldi.

The music for Gloria was recorded, but all the chamber works were brightened with live performers: Steven Beck and Andrew Armstrong, pianos; Wolfram Koessel, cello; and Jo Ellen Miller, soprano.

Morris wants his dancers to make these miniatures their own. The steps and the informing mood were clearly his inventions, but each dancer infused the work with his or her own distinctive personality, so we were not looking at a choreographic museum, but at delightful ideas and intriguing characters made fresh.

To start, Bradon McDonald, a slim and flexible dancer, performed George Gershwin’s Three Preludes (1992) with the surface sheen and inner woe of a classic minstrel man. In black pants and tight jacket, almost cartoony white gloves and spats, he pulled fast or slow phrases as if he were stepping lightly on the piano keys.

Gershwin’s tuneful but complex music cradles jazz, blues, and old laments within its rhythms. McDonald swung a leg, flared his gloved fingers, made a little shrug, and told us the whole story. As Langston Hughes wrote, “when you see me laughing, you know I’m laughing just to keep from crying.”

Tiny, curly headed Lauren Grant danced Bijoux (1983) to songs by Satie, skipping, spinning, and striding in her pink satin dance dress with the swingy skirt. She made the dance look intuitive, like a child responding instantly to what the music told her. Sometimes, she let her body flop over like a rag doll, and once, she did a little barefoot tapping. She finished the chunky dance with a big “So, there” stride offstage.

David Leventhal joined McDonald in the baroque duet, Love, You Have Won (1984) set to a Vivaldi cantata for piano, cello and soprano, and originally danced by Morris and Guillermo Resto. The dancers were two Pierrots in black knee-length tights and white blouses with flowing sleeves. They might have been fencing as they thrust, parried and bowed courteously, mirroring each other’s dramatic gestures, always turning en croix rather than facing the audience straight on.

The music moved apace and the dancers matched its speed. Their hands—almost silly, but with the seriousness of a child—dove like shining dolphins and they stamped a foot lightly to punctuate the phrases.

Pas de Poisson (1990), set to music of Satie, actually had the dancers Craig Biesecker, Joe Bowie and Julie Worden tossing slippery, silvery fish back and forth, and throwing them back into a blue basket. They danced with sharply angled arms and fluid ballet legs, playing backyard games that included a funeral march, a passage of changing weight and pumping shoulders, and a thudding bit of heel and toe dancing.

They walked tall and they walked in a crouch, did a triplet step in a circle, and ran away like Keystone Kops after a thief, leaving Bowie to assess the empty stage and follow them out.

It’s been noted that Morris favors group dancing over partnering, but, in truth, ensemble dances like Gloria embody partnering of another kind. Like Morris’s more recent V, Gloria is a dance in which every dancer is a partner to every other. The logic of the movement requires a dancer—could be any one—to take the place of a fallen one, to push a leaning one forward, to gently drag a downed one to their assigned place for the next passage, or to circle and trade places in tight little trios, where “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

Gloria is about caring for each other. The group of 10 sinks to the floor and crawls across the stage laboriously, their elbows angled up like grasshoppers’ legs, each body distinct and all moving in the same direction, propelling themselves on their bellies and their hands. Solemnly, they proceed. One stands and reaches down to lift another. They fall, rise, help each other in this endless passage. They have a shared stake in the process.

Within the group movement, individuals had lovely or witty moments. Bowie did precise pivots. Worden and Michelle Yard pointed happily wiggling fingers at each other’s rounded bodies. Maile Okamura leapt backwards and disappeared into the wings as if pulled by an invisible force.

But, through it all, the group went on, falling, crawling, rising. I wanted it to go on forever.


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