Mark Morris is known as one of today’s most musical choreographers. Yet, when it comes to movement, he’s probably one of the most inventive too. That was made clear on Friday night at The Egg when his marvelous Mark Morris Dance Group performed a quality program that confirmed why Morris is on top of the contemporary dance heap.
Morris always had an ability to spice up movement, garnishing the simplest of spins or arabesques with eye-catching dash. But in recent years, some of his work has suffered from a distressing (and surprising) predictability. What made Morris so unique was threatening to transform into a ho-hum, we’ve-seen-this-before brand.
Not at The Egg. There, his hard-working troupe shaped enthusiasm and fueled fascination for his imagination.
Adding to the excitement was the energetic playing of pianist Colin Fowler, who accompanied the dancers on all four pieces, and violinist Jesse Mills, who performed with Fowler for Lou Harrison’s “Grand Duo.”
The program opened with a Chopin-inspired “Sang-Froid.” While following the structure of the music, Morris also honors its integrity. Better still, in the hands and feet of Morris and his dancers, the etudes and mazurkas are honed and updated. Audiences see and hear the music in ways different from Isadora Duncan and Jerome Robbins, other faithful devotees of Chopin.
Dressed in black T-shirts and slacks, the dancers throb with the Chopin pulse. The piece begins formally, with the Braden McDonald (who is sadly retiring) and Elisa Clark dancing a mazurka-derived duet with clean and elegant arms. As other dancers are added to the mix, the couple spins each other in wobbly turns. Then they band together to rotate each other in fluid whirling sextets.
“Sang-Froid” is a musical revelation as the dancers hop, with their legs spread apart and their hips bumming, in unison. They also cartwheel, flop on the floor or stand frozen, expressing the personality of each Chopin creation. Entrances and exits were layered throughout, keeping everyone in the seats engaged.
Exits were out for six dancers who stayed fixed to the stage in the humorous “Excursion,” the weakest of the works on the bill. The backdrop is decorated with a string of white lights and the floor is taped off in a square, from which the dancers step out of for strolls, tumbles and general mayhem.
The evening’s highlight was McDonald’s dancing of “Three Preludes.” This solo, set to Gershwin preludes for piano, was expertly performed with a panache that makes one weep at the thought of McDonald retiring. Swift and colorful, he was masterful in this work that is both entertaining and doleful.
Finally, the evening ended with audience favorite “Grand Duo,” the mysterious work that retains the Morris magic. The piece begins with just a finger illuminated in a shaft of light radiating above the dancers’ heads. It ends with a spectacle of 14 members sawing the air with flattened hands, slapping their feet against their thighs and stomping their feet while smacking their hips. Circling or coming straight at the audience, the surge of energy from the dancers and the music is electrifying.