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Mark Morris Dance Group

'Somebody's Coming to See Me Tonight', 'All Fours', 'From Old Seville', 'Grand Duo'

by Kate Snedeker

November 4, 2005 -- Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Returning to Edinburgh after a half-decade absence, Mark Morris and his company provided a powerful reminder that dance and music are (almost) inseparable parts of a moving whole.  Morris, unlike so many contemporary choreographers who persist in using ear-splitting, techno-electronic scores, has stuck with robust, instrumental music played live.  The result is a stunning array of immensely musical dance pieces that show off the talents of Morris’s diverse dance group as much as those of his equally talented musical ensemble. 

“Somebody’s Coming to See Me Tonight” opened the quartet of dances on the program, featuring a cornucopia of Stephen Foster’s songs, including the poignant “Beautiful Dreamer”.   In stylized 19th century garb designed by Susan Ruddie -- long dresses with swishing underskirts (women) and tight trousers with looser white blouses (men), and of course, bare feet -- the dancers move through a series of vignettes. 

Some are literal -- playful competition for the affections of woman, two dancers kissing as the choral quartet in the bit sing about “kissing”.  Other sections are more exploration of the music -- there are plenty of bent knees, angular arms and jagged jumps, but also a powerful grace -- arched arms, pointed toes and a connection with the music that seems a give and take.  One moment the dance is leading, and the next, the music pulls the steps along.  The performance is on the stage and in the pit, and the combination is utterly harmonious. 

With barely a moment to slip from one costume to the next, the dancers reappeared in “All Fours”, a quirky five-part piece that clips along to the pizzicato pluckings of Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4.  The curtain rises on rows of black-clad dancers -- Martin Pakledinaz’s dark pants and jackets for the men, dark tunics and leggings for the women -- starkly highlighted against a blood red backdrop.  It seemed an appropriate piece for Halloween time, with its pseudo-somber feel and Munster-like choreographic motifs -- hands with clenched, claw-like fingers and the dancers moving together in a black mass.  As the Allegro halts and the light cuts out, two figures in off-white invade the stage. 

When the stage is lit again, the piece becomes a duet and then a quartet for an odd, somehow disturbing family.  Father, mother, son and daughter -- roles clear in the cut and length of the dingy white outfits -- dance together, quickly and slowly, but somehow seem remote even with their close proximity. 

The piece continues to alternate between the black-clad crowd and members of the odd family -- perhaps too many times, for one of Morris’ few faults seems to be in over-extending his pieces.  It’s as if he has too many ideas, likes the music too much and drags the point out too long -- but it’s a minor quibble.  Here and later on, my eye was drawn to Craig Biesecker, a lanky music teacher turned dancer, who seems at once youthful and old, and whose dancing has deeply passionate sense.

The Edinburgh audience was fortunate enough to see Morris himself onstage, in the zingy little piece “From Old Seville”.   In the smoky environs of a little bar -- complete with a  table wrapped in chili-pepper Christmas lights (do those exist in Scotland?) -- Morris in black suit and thick-soled shoes dances a zesty and humorous castanet-clicking Spanish dance with Lauren Grant. 

Morris is thickening around the waist but still has all the moves, and “From Old Seville” is a superb chance to witness the natural musicality within him -- the same musicality that we see in his choreography.  And it’s a joy to watch, because Morris is a showman and an artist, campily amusing, but so impressive in his rhythm in foot and castanet.  The music is Manuel Requiebros’ “A Esa Mujer” with lighting by Nicole Pearce who also lit the previous piece.

The evening closed with “Grand Duo”, a distant cousin to “Gong”, which Morris created several years ago for American Ballet Theatre.  Both pieces are draped in rich colors with an exotic flavor.  While “Gong” is decidedly of South-East Asian influence, “Grand Duo” is less specific -- a bit of South Asia, but also perhaps a touch of Central America too, though Lou Harrison’s score grounds it firmly in the US. 

The costumes, again by Susan Ruddie, are vividly colored silks, dresses or pants and tunics on the women and loincloth tunics for the men.  The choreography frees the dancers to wrap their bodies around the robust music.  The simple, flowing costumes allow their bodies that freedom, and accent the movement.

The ‘tribal’ theme comes to a head in the final section, a rousing Polka, which, as Morris revealed in the post-show session, was choreographed first and performed alone as a program finale.  Here, the dancers -- having shed their longer skirts and pants for short tunics and dresses in a gorgeous array of subtly patterned, deep-hued silks -- pound out the rhythms in a great circle. It’s a freeing, primeval kind of dancing, letting the dance emanate from the music.  It’s a little bit of Flintstones, a bit of Balkan dancing, a sprinkling of South-Asian dancing, a touch of polka and all Mark Morris!

The first and final pieces were lit by Michael Chybowski.  The singers and musicians, a youthful -- and accomplished in their own right -- group, also deserve individual mention.  The singers were Eileen Clark, Jesse Bloomberg, Margaret Bragle and Gregory Davidson.  On the violin were Jesse Mills, John Kelly Andersen, with Wolfram Kessel on cello and Seven Beck on the piano.

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