sadness and joy: Mark Morris Dance Groups V.
Mae G. Banner
Morris Dance Group
Pillow, Becket, Mass., Aug. 10
It’s no surprise that Mark Morris’s elegaic V was seen
as a mourner’s kaddish for the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The
wholly abstract dance, set to Robert Schumann’s Quintet
in E flat for piano and strings, premiered in October,
2001 in London, and was dedicated to the city of New York.
More telling, V is filled with images of dancers crawling
laboriously, yet vigorously, to the thudding beat of a dirge
as if they were groping their way out of the ruins. Two groups
of dancers, seven in eye- stabbing cobalt blue and seven in
pale celery green, complete these measured crawls in turn,
approaching each other from opposite wings.
Yet, in its sadness, the dirge is life-affirming, literally
uplifting. When a dancer in green meets the oncoming blue
group at center stage, that dancer stands and walks onward,
slowly. This pattern repeats in concert with the music—no,
as another line of the music—so, one dancer after another
crawls, reaches the center, rises in one smooth movement,
and proceeds out of darkness into light.
This pattern is cropped at the perimeter of the stage, but
we know it must be continuing out of sight, in the wings.
It’s a rule, and, watching Morris’s sturdy dancers, we have
learned the rule.
gloriously accompanied by a quintet of Tanglewood Music Center
Fellows, was the heart-swelling final dance presented by the
Mark Morris Dance Group last week at Jacob’s Pillow. The choreography
looks inevitable, but still surprising. Morris builds coherence
from all kinds of oppositions, as he does in many of his dances.
Dancers dive into each other’s arms lavishly. They know they
will be carried, cared for. Blues and greens begin to partner
each other, to swirl together in lines, circles, crosses,
and escalating, unselfconscious ballet leaps and turns that
magnify and exalt their bodies and our lives.
In the final moments, pairs of dancers run toward each other,
meet, fling their arms out, and hug with abandon, as if they’ve
found a dear one they thought was dead. It is an apotheosis.
Whatever the work, Morris celebrates the music, the human
body, the dance form, and the group. His dances may incorporate
fleeting duets, but no one is anyone’s partner for long. He
simply opens your heart to the nobility of a plain, strong,
barefoot body, moving, with friends.
Ten dancers cavorted elegantly in A Lake (1991), danced
to a recording of Haydn’s Horn Concerto No. 2, the
only work on the program that was not paired with live music.
A Lake is full of reels and jeels and cartwheels, sometimes
performed by couples who are mixed or matched by gender, because
in Morris’s world, anyone can love anyone.
They dance to the flourishes of the horn, with skips and runs
and even a slow leapfrog, as two men lift a third over a fourth
who lies on the stage as if in dewy grass. When David Leventhal
and Julie Worden danced a goat-like duet, I thought of a poetic
image from the Passover Seder: “The mountains skipped like
lambs, the hills like rams.”
Morris is a welcome constant at the Pillow; this is his 16th
season. For the Pillow, he tends to revive older dances from
his repertory of more than 100 works made since he founded
the group in 1980. Last week, we saw My Party (1984)
and A Spell (1993).
Party, with Tanglewood Fellows playing Jean Francaix’s
Trio in C, is what founding Morris dancer Tina Fehlandt
would call a “galumpy” dance. Four barefoot couples (mixed
and matched, again) hop, skip and jump with all the seriousness
of six-year-olds at a birthday party, circling and kicking
up their heels beneath a clothesline hung with perfectly round
pastel-colored paper lanterns.
Three dancers move with lusty literalness in A Spell,
set to madrigals of the 1600s and sung by soprano Eileen Clark,
accompanied by guitar and violin. Bradon McDonald is Cupid,
decked out in a brief chiffon toga and sporting a pair of
stuffed cotton wings, like a child’s toy. It’s his job to
bring together the indifferent lovers, Amber Darragh and Matthew
Rose. He succeeds magnificently, kissing each of them up and
down from lips to thighs. Since Cupid is invisible to mortals,
this brawny shepherd and voluptuous maid are led to take to
each other with strong, weighted gropes.
After much teasing and scampering, the two unite in an unexpectedly
beautiful final pose, their bodies tilted and curved toward
each other, their arms sweetly linked.
Spell is funny, bawdy, and lovely, all at once. Thanks,
Mark Morris, for your endless inventiveness, your boundless