30 August 2012

Dido and Aeneas

The Mark Morris Dance Group perform Dido and Aeneas. Photo: COSTAS.
Blown away. That’s what I was when I saw a performance of Dido and Aeneas by the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) at the Mostly Mozart festival last week. The one-hour performance was mesmerizing with an added bonus of Mr. Morris himself conducting.

An adaptation of the Henry Purcell opera, Dido and Aeneas is set right after the Trojan War. Aeneas and his men are en route to Italy to establish Rome when bad weather forces them to land at Carthage. There Aeneas meets Dido, the Queen of Carthage, and they fall in love. But an evil Sorceress and her fellow witches decide Aeneas must continue his journey, and they conjure up a fake Mercury who tells Aeneas he has to leave. Dido, seeing the ships preparing to sail, confronts Aeneas who offers to stay but she sends him away. Aeneas departs, and Dido dies.

When Dido and Aeneas was first produced in 1989, Morris danced both the roles of Dido and the Sorceress. This time round it was Amber Star Merkens whose long mane of dark curls is reminiscent of Morris’ famous head of hair. Tall and strong, Merkens is a force to be reckoned with. Moving boldly across the stage with silver talons gleaming in the light, you couldn’t take your eyes off of her. Domingo Estrada, Jr. was a good Aeneas but could not help the fact that Dido and Sorceress overshadowed him. The rest of the dancers were excellent including one of my favourites, Lauren Grant, who gave a comedic turn as a sailor.

The music was wonderful. With the singers down in the pit with the orchestra, it was quite moving to hear their voices rising up, especially that of the marvellous Stephanie Blythe who sang the roles of Dido and Sorceress. And Morris demonstrated that he is a fine conductor.

A friend recently asked me why I love the MMDG, and I said because no matter what the piece, even one as dark and disturbing as Dido and Aeneas, I always feel joy when I see them perform. And that's probably as great a compliment as you can give anyone.

For more information about the Mark Morris Dance Group visit their website here.

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