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Mark Morris Dance Group

'Somebody's Coming to See me Tonight', 'All Fours', 'Grand Duo', 'The 'Tamil Film Songs in Stereo' Pas de Deux'

by Ana Abad-Carles

October 18, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Mark Morris Dance Group started their season at Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday, October 18th. The group presented two different programmes, and I saw the first one,  which comprised several works from different periods of Mark Morris’ creative output.

The first piece was “Somebody’s Coming to See me Tonight”, created in 1995 and featuring the music of Stephen Foster, a 19th century American composer. Morris’ response to Foster’s romantic salon pieces was, as it is customary, eclectic and varied in moods and movement vocabulary. Though the piece would not rank amongst Morris’ greatest works, it is nonetheless an interesting exploration of human relationships and their possibilities in terms of spatial and movement vocabulary.

Morris is renowned for his eclectic use of gender on stage and for his translation of musical phrasing into never ending combinations of spatial patterns and eclectic enchainments. The result is inspiring and rarely boring. The choreographer has a command of timing that is unusual in that he keeps the viewer's attention by his constant shift of styles.

“All Fours” (2003), was a perfect example of this eclectic use of movement and mood. The outer sections of Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 were used for groups of dancers dressed in black who performed interesting combinations of movement and had an apparent plotless significance. The middle sections of the Quartet, however, were performed by dancers in white in what seemed like family portraits -- mother, father, daughter and son.

The more literal characters of the piece related in a darker way and seemed to provide some key to the whole piece. I personally preferred the choreographic inventiveness assigned to the group of dancers in black, especially in the closing section of the piece when their arm movements echoed the staccato rhythm of the music in such a simple and yet powerful way that was fascinating to watch.

“The ‘Tamil Film Songs in Stereo’ Pas de Deux” (1983) was one of those typical Morris pieces at his most humorous. A pas de deux reminiscent in its idea to Fleming Flindt’s “The Lesson”, it presented a teacher instructing his student on some bizarre steps and movement combinations to the sound of Indian music. Unlike “The Lesson”, Morris’ work is so funny, it had the audience roaring with laughter. Once again, what is fascinating about the work is the perfect synchronisation between music and dance.

The last work was not new to London audiences. “Grand Duo” (1993) closed the programme with panache. The piece showcases Morris’ genius at choreographic invention as much as it makes the most of his wonderful dancers. One of the most striking features of the company’s dancers is how different they all are and yet how harmonious they look on stage.

“Grand Duo” starts in a sombre mood and slowly starts introducing different movement motifs that get developed as the work progresses. Some of its most important leitmotifs are introduced at the opening, yet one has to wait until the last section to see them developed into endless choreographic fugues.

Like in a Sibelius symphony, the overall effect of the ending is simply breathtaking. When all the choreographic strands come together and start overlapping each other in endless combinations and spatial patterns, the simplicity of the movement phrases gives way to an effect of continuous inventiveness. The final phrases resembling hip hop sequences are so powerful that they make the work stay in one’s memory long after its viewing.

Once again, Morris has lived up to his reputation as one of the most important creative forces at present, not only in choreography but in all artistic fields. I look forward to seeing his company again very soon.

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