Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer | March 03, 2013
Mark Morris Dance Group captivates at Palace Theatre (review)
The repertoire that American choreographer Mark Morris has created for more than 30 years is rich and deep, but it's possible to see only a fraction of his canon in any given season. Outside New York, the challenges are even greater, especially given the infrequency with which the Mark Morris Dance Group appears in certain cities.
Until Saturday, when the company performed at the Palace Theatre under the auspices of Cleveland State University, DanceCleveland and PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland hadn't seen Morris' art in five years. Two of the works on the program were new since the last visit. As always, the music was performed live (and unamplified).
There was even a bonus: the artistic director traveled with his dancers and stayed afterward to answer questions from the audience in typically zany and tart fashion.
Along with the two recent works, the program included an early Morris creation, "Canonic Studies" (1982), which remains as fresh and irresistible as ever. It reveals much about the choreographer's singular style his utmost clarity of design, consummate musicality and impish sense of humor.
Much of the time, the work is outright funny, not an easy feat in the dance world, as it spoofs balletic conventions and makes ironic comments on the fallibility of the human body. Morris blends classical and modern elements as if they were natural partners, sending nine dancers dressed in white tops and black tights around the stage in all sorts of reversals, pratfalls and dizzying patterns.
One of the most hilarious sequences finds two females racing around a male dancer, who partners them fearlessly as he lifts them in quick, dangerous succession. Each section of the work contains canonic material that's surprising and captivating. The dancers thrust themselves crisply through their duties, and pianist Colin Fowler made glistening things of the numerous etudes in waltz time.
Morris explores couple and ensemble relationships in "Festival Dance" (2011), which is set to Johann Nepomuk Hummel's Trio No. 5 for Violin, Cello and Piano. The curtain rises on two dancers in tender and joyous action before a verdant backdrop. As they waltz, five couples join them to expand on Morris' buoyant movement language.
The connections to the music are intensified in the second movement's genial march, in which patterns emerge from one another and the dancers seamlessly switch partners. Morris embraces Hummel's vivacious polka in a finale that brims with communal zest and a final tableau leaving the opening couple in a sweet hug.
The dancers, in casual attire, basked in Morris' outpouring of elegant lines and rush of ecstatic feelings. Fowler again applied refined virtuosity to a tricky piano part in vibrant collaboration with violinist Cyrus Beroukhim and cellist Andrew Janss.
Morris eshews emotional extremes in "Socrates," a 2010 work set to the three movements of Erik Satie's suite, "Socrate." With English translations of the French text projected above the stage, the piece unfolds as a series of impressions of the classical Greek philosopher whose independence led to trial and death by poison.
The dancers, looking like willowy Athenian statues come to life, move in stately configurations. Their gestures reflect specific words in the text without painting an explicit portrait of the title character.
In true Morris manner, the movement is clean, clear yet intricately layered, with groups of five in the final death scene alternating contrasting material before everyone expires at the end. It's a work of subtle and majestic beauty, performed with nuanced grace by the dancers and their invaluable musical partners, pianist Fowler and tenor Zach Finkelstein.