Performing Arts: Dance
April 24, 2015
The opening night program at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gillman Opera House showcased a diverse array of choreographer Mark Morris’ noted musicality. His 35-year-old company, Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG), was joined by the MMDG Music Ensemble in performance. And what a treat it is to experience the accord between the two, especially in an age where dance to live music has become a rarity.

The New York premiere of “Pacific” – a work Morris originally created for the San Francisco Ballet – has a classic feel, set to Lou Harrison’s “Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano.” Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes are breathtaking – long, flowing skirts of white with a hint of blue, others in green and red. The movement is colored with simple balletic lines that reoccur in different ways amidst the more technical phrases that add intricacies.

Following is a witty piece that premiered this fall as part of New York City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival. Entitled “Words,” this dance brings each musical accent of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words” alive. A black-trimmed rectangle of fabric is walked across the stage throughout, while dancers swiftly peel away from the scene or settle into a pose behind its fleeting presence. A swelling momentum of tossing forward and reeling back is met with more gestural moves, and moments owned by one subtle characteristic (head bob, child-like spinning frenzies) – the latter of which often earns laughter from the audience.

It’s “Whelm,” the world premiere of the evening that makes the most profound impact. A quartet of two men and two women, it is set to music by Claude Debussy, performed by pianist and MMDG Music Director Colin Fowler. This world Morris creates is full of oddities and gloom, and intrigues with its seemingly narrative yet visually abstracted quality.

Nick Kolin’s lighting is dim and targeted as one dancer steps over the body of another grabbing at their ankles, soon to be dragged. Costume Designer Elizabeth Kurtzman has three clad in drab, head-to-toe, velvety-looking body suits in black, burgundy, and brown. One of the three is hooded. The fourth, separate from the rest, makes a slow progression across the back of the stage in a black dress and veil as if in mourning. To one side, a clump covered in fabric simply exists, slowly inching downstage and retreating back as a calm, ominous consistency throughout the varying energy of the four dancer’s movement.

The underlying slick movement quality and an unrelenting eeriness alludes to nightmare, to suspense, to death. The pedestrian moments quickly become more dramatic and evolve into orchestrated encounters where they catch one another, fall sideways to the floor in a quick cannon, and later, one shoots across the stage in a series of turning leaps. It’s certain that “Whelm” is a work you will want to take in more than once.

Closing the evening is one of Morris’ signatures, “Grand Duo,” also set to the music of Lou Harrison. This work in and of itself is full of dynamic contrast from primal, hair thrashing, low-stanced sections, to others of great synchronicity, and moments of classic beauty. Danced by fourteen members of the company, it’s a powerful close for the spirited program.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

©2001 Eye and Dance and the Arts | All Rights Reserved