Mark Morris is many things, including a literal and poetic interpreter of music. He revealed these sides, along with a touch of his screwball humor, Thursday night when his Mark Morris Dance Group appeared at The Egg.
The program of mostly new works, with a revival of his own early solo, “Ten Suggestions,” was not among his best, as it felt slow to get started, with the real dancing saved for after intermission. However, Morris’ work, all of it, owned a simplicity that elevated his dancers. In his movement, both campy and heartfelt, the dignity of the human body boldly stepped forward.
This was true even in “A Wooden Tree,” a straightforward acting out of the delightful ditties of Ivor Cutler. Morris tossed this together with a wink and nod to Cutler’s saucy songs. The lyrics were funnier than the dancing, but it was enjoyable all the same — mainly because Morris was deft at pointing out and punctuating absurdities in the songs. “The Market Place,” a duet for a man wooing a woman, and “Deedle, Deedle, I Pass,” which included an intricate square dance, stood out as the better passages in this suite of songs. Equally pleasant was the finale, “Cockadoodledon’t,” which tied all the movement themes together in a cockeyed count-off.
The rest of the program included live music — one of the great luxuries of a Morris concert. It opened with a pajama-clad Dallas McMurray in “Ten Suggestions,” a work in which a sleeper tries to slumber. He entered with a series of tossing somersaults that are halted by kicks and jabs with his limbs. He jumped through a hoop, stepped up and down upon a chair, and dashed off a little dance with a safari hat. All for naught, as in the end, he remained standing.
The second half of the evening was more gratifying, with “Jenn and Spencer,” a duet for Jenn Weddel and Spencer Ramirez, and the “Crosswalk,” a lively ensemble piece. The duet, to sober music by Henry Cowell, portrayed a complex relationship — one that kept its two players at odds. They entered by circling each other. With one hand raised, they appeared ready to slap or fence. The scene was set for combat.
While not violent, the dance was a twisted struggle. Weddel and Ramirez pushed away from each other more than they rested, or slumped, in each other’s presence. In the end, they were as stiff as toy soldiers, teetering off to presumably wrestle with their discomfort.
The last dance, “Crosswalk,” to music by von Weber, provided a happy ending. Three women in orange faced off with a pack of eight dynamic, fast-moving men. They first met center stage as they blew over the women as the men bustled by. What ensued was a sporty duel in which the men and women intersected in an eye-catching display of lines and circles. And while the thrust of the dance centered on a walk, the dancers showcased its honest grace and elegance.
Here, Morris won over his audience with a statement, though subtle, that everyone is beautiful.