09 April 2013

Mark and Misha

Readers of this blog are familiar with my love of the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG). So it should come as no surprise that Sunday night I was thrilled to see them perform at their home in Brooklyn. Add special guest Mikhail Baryshnikov to the mix and it was a perfect event.

The show began with The Office, an older piece set to Antonín Dvořák’s Bagatelles for two violins, cello and harmonium, Op. 47. A small group of dancers dressed in workplace attire dance almost feverishly until they are interrupted by a clipboard-bearing woman whose arrival signals the departure of one dancer. This continues to occur until only one dancer remains. What happens to them once they leave the stage? An incredibly poignant and moving work, it should get performed more often.

This was followed with A Wooden Tree, a piece that only Morris could create. Choreographed to the whimsical recordings of Scottish humorist Ivor Cutler (this was an exception to the usual MMDG rule of using live music), the new work had the dancers, decked out like colourful ragamuffins, twirling, skipping, and even hopping around the stage. The group included Mikhail Baryshnikov who I haven’t seen perform since the premiere of Morris’ The Argument in Boston back in 1999. The 65-year-old may have been just one of the ensemble but it was clear that all eyes were on him. It was a truly delightful piece. And if you’ve never heard of Cutler, I suggest you check him out.

Two world premieres were presented after the intermission. Jenn and Spencer, a beautiful duet set to Suite for Violin and Piano by Henry Cowell, merged classical movements with the pure physical so key to Morris’ work. It was also named for the two dancers who performed the piece—a wonderful tribute to their talent and grace. Crosswalks, danced to Carl Maria von Weber’s 1816 Grand Duo Concertant, for clarinet and piano, Op. 48, had echoes of some of Morris’ grander pieces with dancers crisscrossing the stage sometimes in seeming unison, while at other times literally bumping into each other or, in the case of one female dancer, run over. Whereas I enjoyed the lightness of A Wooden Tree, this may have been my favourite of the new works.

The Mark Morris Dance Center. Photo: Michele

The James and Martha Duffy Performance Space at the dance center seats fewer than 150 people and was probably the most intimate space I’ve ever seen MMDG perform. At the end, Mark Morris walked on stage and took repeated bows with his dancers. I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more.

The remaining sold-out performances at the Dance Center run through April 14. For more info on the MMDG, check out their site here.

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