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Mark Morris Dance Group - 'Mozart Dances'

Diamonds and Pearls

by Cecly Placenti

August 19, 2006 -- Mostly Mozart Festival, Lincoln Center, New York

Mozart’s music sparkles like diamonds, spilling forth into space like gems on a necklace. The musical notes, crystalline and perfect, cascade together to make priceless treasures. Its beauty is timeless, its emotion uncontrived. The Mark Morris Dance Group was a perfect complement, like pearls to Mozart’s diamonds. The dancing in “Mozart Dances” served as a visual accent to the concertos, the dancers falling across the stage in perfect harmony, trilling along like musical notes in space. In his simple yet pristine choreography, Morris establishes patterns and then breaks them in surprising ways. Like in Mozart’s music, where what you think are repeats are actually slight differentiations in chords, the choreography works out a theme with slight variations, sections moving into the next with satisfying cohesion.

In “Eleven,” set to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 11, Morris embarks on a dialogue both friendly and illuminating. The feisty and lush Lauren Grant is a soloist set against a chorus of seven women. The movements are buoyant and angular, yet punctuated and expansive. The steps are basic, powerful, and accented with common gesture, as when a hand is extended, index finger pointing up as if to say, “Wait a minute.” This piece introduces steps that appear in all three sections of the evening.

Morris makes Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 11, Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, and Piano Concerto No. 27 seem like one long river in which his dancers swim, following its currents with ease and familiarity. The evening was a celebration for both eyes and ears, with major pianists Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki in the pit with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. Three backdrops by Howard Hodgkin, one for each piece, bear sparse designs – one or two giant brushstrokes in either red or black.

Morris lends us his ears and shows us what he hears – the tender exchanges in the music, the sense of sharing infusing both the structure and feeling of the choreography. The repeats of themes and sections easily allow us into Mozart’s complexity. Walking patterns make up a lot of the piece, firm purposeful strides suggesting life’s endless comings and goings, meetings and partings. A lovely passage has the women simply waiting and watching, as if the music were a breeze occasionally shifting their positions.

In “Double,” male soloist Joe Bowie’s agile dancing is full of twists and half-turns as if he is catching a current. Morris investigates Mozart’s ideas of exchanging, overlapping, and replacing. The other men feed into and leave Bowie’s solo one by one, then two by two; he’s never alone. The dancing is exuberant, witty, and coy. There is a fun petit allegro with sweeping arm movements.

During the last concerto, the men and women together celebrate everything they have done before in different ways, places, and with different partners. They run, winding chains around each other that blossom into new designs. The members of the Mark Morris Dance Group inhabit Mozart’s music as if it were a hometown they love and understand. It was a lovely evening and a perfect collaboration, like diamonds and pearls on a necklace, timeless and stunning – a tremendous achievement for all involved.

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