Mark Morris is the master of the grand gesture. That was once again clear in the delectable and august showing of his Mark Morris Dance Group in Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood Music Center this week.
In two of the three works shown, “Rock of Ages” and “Festival Dance,” Morris and his gorgeous ensemble drew in the viewer with thoughtful and florid dancing — inspiring a group sigh and signaling the audience’s surrender to the art.
“Rock of Ages,” to Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat D. 897 played live by Tanglewood music fellows, was a dance for four in blue. Rita Donahue and Maile Okamura began the dance by reaching through the air as if surveying a majestic landscape. The two, with their heads held high, stepped forward. But before their feet hit the floor, they let their legs linger in the air. This well-placed pause is a Morris signature, a gentle nudge to guide the audience to see the weight and beauty of the body in motion.
Amber Star Merkens and Michelle Yard joined in to this heavenly romp. The strong Merkens was the rock of the dance — lifting the lithe Okamura; while Yard was the joy. She smiled throughout as if this dance, with its elegant Grecian arms and curious looks over the shoulder, was the key to bliss.
“Festival Dance,” to music by Hummel Piano trio No 5 in E, Op. 83, tapped into Morris’ folk dancing background. In three sections, “Waltz,” “March” and “Polka,” Morris composed a work that showcased his dancers’ technical abilities. That’s a departure from typical Morris, who tends to display his dancers looking natural — like everyday people who move with class and allure.
The dance for couples started with a man embracing a woman. They broke into a waltz-inspired dance, skipping and gathering energy and other dancers along the way. Through the three movements, played with flourish by music fellows Ryan MacEvoy McCullough on piano, Micah Ringham on violin and Michael Dahlberg on cello, the dance gained momentum. It ended in a kaleidoscope of movement — line dances that crossed and curved in the most interesting ways and eye-popping lifts with the women swung through the air like rag dolls. “Festival Dance” was a rousing closer.
Unfortunately, the evening did not start out as well. The cartoonish “Something Lies Beyond the Scene,” to music by William Walton and Edith Sitwell poetry read aloud by Morris and Lucy Shelton, was poorly executed. The main problem were the recitations of Sitwell’s “Façade: An Entertainment.” To keep up with the tempo of the music, played with pluck by the fellows, much of the reading was done at a fast clip. Morris’ recitations were garbled. And as the dancers were expressing, literally, the words of the poems, the subsequent dance became a muddle.
Shelton, however, did a marvelous job enunciating her words. But it was not enough to save the garbled and confused “Something Lies Beyond the Scene.”