Review: Mark Morris Dance Group Excels in Various Chamber Music Configurations
By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, August 15, 2018
The Mark Morris Dance Group, which has a long association with the Mostly Mozart Festival, presented a World Premiere for this year’s season at the Rose Theater of Lincoln Center. The company danced to the popular chamber music composition, The Trout, by Franz Schubert.
Because Morris often bases his movement on the dictates of the music – visualizing the music, you might say – I must certainly mention the stellar performance by the Ariel Quartet (Gershon Gerchikov, violin; Jan Grüning, viola; and Amit Even-Tov, cello), with additional musicians Timothy Cobb, bass and Inon Barnatan, piano. Since many modern dance companies often use recorded music, it was a particular pleasure to hear such fine musicians live, and it’s always a treat to hear this quintessential chamber work performed so beautifully.
The effective, but unobtrusive lighting was by Nick Kolin. Maile Okamura designed chiffon party dresses for the women, which were lovely and emphasized the soft, wafting aspects of the music; but in odd contrast, the men wore fitted tank tops and stretch pants.
Morris’ choreography followed the rhythms of the lilting music, sometimes using ordinary gestures, and slow or quick walking steps in a stylized fashion. At times, the choreography included some Russian folk influences, the kind that may be seen in classical ballet. But being a modern dance company, the dancers were barefoot; no pointe shoes here. The patterns were often unexpected, with dancers racing across the stage in various groupings and displaying unusual lifts. I found myself emotionally carried along with the music and the movement, and applauded enthusiastically with the rest of the audience, who gave the company several curtain calls and an especially loud ovation when Mark Morris appeared onstage to acknowledge his dancers.
The first half of the program included two former works of Mark Morris: Love Song Waltzes from 1989 and I Don’t Want to Love from 1996.
Love Song Waltzes was danced to Liebeslieder-Walzer Op.52 by Brahms. The musicians were excellent, and the voices were breathtaking. Taking his cue from the waltz rhythms, Morris often had the dancers whirling around in circular formations with regular waltz steps, but played with the various partnering. Men might dance with men, women with women, and sometimes they changed partners and mixed it up. I liked the costumes of black and cranberry reds, but no design credit was listed.
The attractive all-white costumes for I Don’t Want to Love were designed by Isaac Mizrahi and presented variations of sleepwear (nightgowns, pajamas, bathrobes) that could easily be a fashion line. Morris’ choreography included some dramatic or melodramatic gestures, and followed the music by Monteverdi arrestingly played on early instruments, including lute, harpsichord and theorbo. The rich sound of the singers created a gorgeous base for the choreography.
Generally, Mark Morris’ choreography is a pleasure. He takes you on a musically-infused ride that has moments of genuine surprise or innovation; but too often some clever movement or gesture is repeated and repeated until it risks losing its specialness. Without exception, the dancers were especially fine. The diverse members of the Mark Morris company were of many sizes, colors and ethnicities, and each projected an individual personality, but they danced stylistically as a whole, with a joie de vivre, an emotional commitment, and solid technique. Many of the dancers performed in all the works, clearly proving that they also possessed stamina. They deserved all the extra curtain calls they received.
Mark Morris Dance Group presented as part of the Lincoln Center Mostly Mozart Festival at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall on August 9-12, 2018. Mark Morris Dance Group; Mark Morris, Artistic Director and Choreographer.
Mark Morris Dance Group: Mica Bernas, Sam Black, Brandon Cournay, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Lesley Garrison, Lauren Grant. Srah Haarmann, Aaron Loux, Laurel Lynch, Dallas McMurray, Brandon Randolph, Nicolla Sabella, Christina Sahaida, Billy Smith, Noah Vinson.
Love Song Waltzes: Jennifer Zetlan, soprano; Luthien Brackett, mezzo-soprano; Thomas Cooley, tenor; Tom Meglioranza, baritone; Amir Farid and Colin Fowler, piano.
I Don’t Want to Love: Julie Greenleaf, soprano; Brian Giebler, Thomas Cooley, tenors; Tom Megliorana, bass; Dan Senberg, lute/guitar; Hank Heijink, theorbo; John Moran, cello; Colin Fowler, harpsichord.
The Trout: Ariel Quartet: Gershon Gerchikov, violin; Jan Grüning, viola; Amit Even-Tov, cello, with Timothy Cobb, bass and Inon Barnatan, piano.
Cover: (l. to r.) Dallas McMurray, Mica Bernas, and Domingo Estrada, Jr. in ‘The Trout;’ photo: Stephanie Berger.