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Mark Morris Dance Group

‘Going Away Party,’ ‘All Fours,’ ‘A Spell,’ ‘Gloria’

By Carol Herron

October 2003 -- Center for the Arts, George Mason University, Washington, D.C.

The Center for the Arts hosted a pre-performance discussion. The speaker was the very entertaining Barry Alterman, General Director of Mark Morris Dance Group, who has been with Mark Morris for 20 years. He gave a brief history of the MMDG and then answered questions from the audience.

Some of the questions included interest about what Mark Morris is working on now: the San Francisco Ballet will present "Sylvia" in April, and he is working on a program for '06 that will be about King Arthur. Another question was about the difference between European and US audiences and how they feel about MMDG. Barry Alterman and MMDG obviously did not enjoy their stint in Europe much. But he did make a distinction between continental Europe and the UK, saying that MMDG is very popular in the UK. The session concluded with a discussion about commissioning music for dance, something that Mark Morris does not do very often.

The Center for the Arts has a long standing relationship with Mark Morris, where his group performs annually and where he conducts master classes. The evening marked the professional debut of George Mason University dance alumna Rita Donahue as an apprentice with MMDG. The Theater is a pleasant venue with pretty good sight lines no matter where one sits. There was one very unpleasant aspect to the evening, not caused by the Theater or the dancers but by an audience member who was wearing so much perfume, our eyes were watering.

"Going Away Party," danced to music by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, was thoroughly enjoyable, a little risqué and laugh-out-loud funny at times. This dance is the only piece to recorded music. Apparently MMDG has tried to get live musicians to recreate the music, but it was not as effective as the recorded music. I especially liked the dancing in “When You Leave Amarillo, Turn Out the Lights,” sweetly funny and a little poignant.

"All Fours" was danced to music by Bela Bartok, beautifully played live by Jonathan Gandelsman, Andrea Schultz, Jessica Troy and Wolfram Koessel. I have to admit I do not like Bartok, and though the dancing was excellent I did not enjoy it much. The fourth section, "IV Allegretto pizzicato," danced by Lauren Grant and Brynn Taylor, was the one of the first pieces in Mark Morris' first concert in 1979.

"A Spell" to music by John Wilson was a series of lover's dances with Cupid assisting. The soprano Eileen Clark did a lovely job with the songs. But the dancing, while well done, was also not much to my taste – a bit too much acting out of the songs.

When "Gloria" started I even forgot the awful perfume. The music is so important to my enjoyment of a dance, and my favorite composer, Vivaldi, was well performed by the GMU Singers and Chamber Orchestra conducted by Dr. S. Engebretson, along with Eileen Clark, soprano, and Emily Eyre, alto. "Gloria" was Mark Morris' first hit (original premiere in 1981). It is still a wonderful, very interesting piece. There is a very short opening scene, then the gorgeous music is played and sung. The dancing starts in earnest with dancers moving across the floor on their bellies, looking like creatures emerging from the primordial soup. A wonderful dance that is open to many interpretations. For me it seemed to symbolize the emergence and, ultimately, fall of Man.

An enlightening and enjoyable evening (except for the awful perfume).

 

Edited by Jeff.

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