January 2004

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Experience Beyond Text

Mark Morris Dance Group

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

by Jwcw2

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

Harmonious, diverse, stimulating to all senses. Perhaps this holistic theatrical experience cannot be sufficiently contained in words, but let me try to guide you through this experience.

Part of this experience is brought by Mark Morris dancing his own work, Peccadillos." Black and white is how he dressed, and so is the pianist. "The pianist normally accompanies off-stage. How do you notice what he dressed like?" you may ask. Morris surprises us by bringing the pianist, Ethan Iverson on stage. Yet instead of playing a grand piano upstage, Iverson sits downstage on the floor in front of a miniature piano. With his speedy yet coherent movements, Morris works with the music, attacks it and makes jokes about it.

As soon as you begin to enjoy the purity and innocence in "Peccadillos," Morris tries to share with his audience an entirely different set of time and space by bringing us to a tribal gathering. "Grand Duo" is performed by fourteen men and women, all in different body types, color and hairstyles. The typical dancer's body is not typical on stage. Despite all dressed in bright, tribal clothing, every dancer is dressed differently, symbolizing the importance of individuality within the group. With the playful use of lighting by Michael Chybowski, the color on stage harmonizes with the dancers' pulses.

With their expressive emotions and movements, each individual performer interacts with one another. Some duets float while others break. This raw exposition of human nature draws the audience's energy into the tribal group, breaking the barriers between the audience and the performers. As an audience, I gather the energy from the theater as the performance goes. This amazing yet powerful energy gradually transcends into a movement of power. Not only can one hear the audience's applause, my funky teenager neighbors stand up, and applaud speechlessly with awe.

Morris's witty use of harmony and balances then brings us into another kind of experience in "V." Contrasting with the rhythmic music in "Grand Duo," "V" is danced with four movements in Robert Schumann's Quintet in E flat for piano and strings. Collaborating with the music, men and women form the number(s) "V". Each dancer's musicality is so precise, and his/her control of energy is so effective, that no one dominates the performance. Nor does the dance dominate the music. The relationships between the dancers, the dance and the music, and the performers and the audience are complementary, rather than competitive. Each unique element contributes to promote the sense of harmony and diversity in the theater.

Morris's idea of harmony and balances can further be seen in his choreography. Despite the tensions created by the gestures towards the end of the performance, the dancers' quick yet light turns and jumps generate moments of ease, which again balances the entire dance, and hence, the audience's emotions. Also, the steps in Morris's choreography are not standard ballet movements; rather, they are basic steps taken or originated from our daily lives, such as crawling. This freshness is particularly revealing, given the fact that several movements in the dance are deliberately repeated.

Perhaps to end a review of a holistic experience as Morris's, is to invite you to go beyond what is contained in this text, but to experience what Morris has to say in the theater.

Edited by Jeff.

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