Choreographer Mark Morris is an artist of many talents — among them weaving a compelling tale.
He did so on Wednesday night at his annual Tanglewood Music Center performance where he directed music fellows in Benjamin Britten’s “Curlew River.” Better still, his marvelous Mark Morris Dance Group presented its 1989 rendering of Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas.” Both stagings once again proved Morris as a masterful movement interpreter of opera.
The program opened with “Curlew River,” which surprised as the fellows not only sang deftly, but danced with earnest effort. The mostly synchronized dances were performed by the Chorus of Pilgrims. They walked in a formal processional as their arms swept the air as if introducing their purpose — to echo the lament of a mother, performed with heartbreaking drama by Isaiah Bell. As the mother, he was dubbed the Madwoman whose sole goal was finding her lost son.
Equally powerful were the vocal deliveries of Edward Nelson as the Ferryman, whose voice rang clear, and the soulful David Tinervia as the Traveller.
Morris led these inspired singers, all clad in white, through an emotional journey across the river to the grave where the mother heard the heavenly voice of her lost child. It was a beautiful and tender sight and sound.
Striking work of art
Death dealt the final blow in the tragic “Dido and Aeneas,” in which Morris’ professional ensemble enacted with grace and style. They related the tale of the Queen of Carthage and the Trojan hero’s love story and how a sorceress plotted to destroy their union.
Morris cast the look of his “Dido and Aeneas” as a classical Greek frieze. The dancers flatten their gestures, posing with their hands and feet flush with their twisted torsos. The dancers moved around the main players like a Greek chorus – their percussive steps and sharply drawn postures reverberating across the stage.
Laurel Lynch danced the dual role of Dido and the Sorceress. Those unfamiliar with the Morris take on the libretto might have been confused by the elegant queen’s transformation into the raging witch who wanted her dead. (Perhaps Morris was pointing out that we humans are our own worst enemies.) Regardless, Lynch’s conversion from queen to hag was so complete that she was nearly unrecognizable.
Spencer Ramirez danced the role of Aeneas with an aloofness that made it appear that his love for Dido was superficial.
However, Maile Okamura as Belinda was convincing as the queen’s beloved and bereaved confidante. She didn’t leave her side, even in death.
Most enjoyable was Lauren Grant, who led the group of macho sailors who hitched up their drawers as they hoisted sails in preparation to return to the sea.
In total, “Dido and Aeneas” remains one of Morris’ most striking works of art — complete in scenery, music and choreography. It melds together seductively to serve the story, transporting viewers to a time and place of myth and mystery.