January 2004

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Pure Joy of Motion

Mark Morris Dance Group

'Grand Duo,' 'I Don't Want to Love,' V,' 'Peccadillos,' 'Grand Duo'

by Luciana Brett

October 17, 2001 -- Sadler's Wells, London

The pure joy of moving leaps from the dancers’ bodies. They consume the space with outstretched, open arms; quick, dynamic runs and sprightly jumps.

What strikes you about the Mark Morris Dance Group, formed in 1980 when the choreographer was just 24, is the intimate unity between the dancers, and, more surprisingly, between the dancers and musicians. In fact, watching Morris’s work, the reviewer feels the music should be described as much as the dance.

In the opening piece, “I don’t want to love”, a small choir of two tenors and a soprano sing seven Monteverdi songs. The rich voices of the singers are intricately interwoven with the movements of the ensemble, so that no dancer goes solo. This is one of the most refreshing aspects of Morris’s work. As he puts it, "what we call a giant solo in my company is about four bars long."

The second piece is in complete contrast and an absolute joy. We see a musician sitting at a tiny piano on stage. His toy-like rendering of Erik Satie’s music launches “Peccadilloes”, a solo by Mark Morris himself. Although no longer a young, svelte figure, he surprised us all with this light-footed, playful dance, sparked with little flourishes of joie de vivre.

“Grand Duo” opens the second act with a striking image of all fourteen dancers on stage; legs grounded, feet apart, their arms and upper bodies slice through the air with sharp, punctured dynamism. It’s in this piece that the dancers really show off their mesmerising unity. Moving swiftly across the stage with accuracy and coordination the group display spectacular group formations and floor patterns.

Much was expected of Morris’s new work, “V”, receiving its world premiere at Sadler’s Wells. Performed to Schumann’s dramatic Quintet in E flat, the dancers are light and fluid in their movements. But amidst their enjoyment lies a rigorous structure of unison and cannon. However this formula becomes relentless, with the dancers often repeating exactly the same movement phrase only in a different direction or with a different partner. Cannon sequences, where, for example, each dancer down the line jumps and turns in the air, only adds to this predictability.

By any standards, though, the power of “Grand Duo” is a hard act to follow.

Edited by Jeff.

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