D.C. DanceWatcher

Morsels From Morris

Posted in Ballet, Contemporary dance, Dance, Modern dance by lisatraiger on February 7, 2011

Mark Morris Dance Group
Center for the Arts George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia
February 4, 2011

By Lisa Traiger

© 2011 Lisa Traiger
Published February 7, 2011
Morris a14Oct_BS20453[1]At Morris Dance Group’s nearly annual stopover at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, the company served up plenty of tasty morsels, but little in the way of a substantial main course on a program that featured two newer works and a pair of vintage dances. A long-time favorite at the Northern Virginia college campus, where two dance professors –- Susan Shields and Dan Joyce — claim Mark Morris provenance on their resumes, Morris’s troupe has a regular following there. Even so, the evening felt less like an occasion than a mandatory stop in the D.C. suburbs of Fairfax.

Of the program’s newer works, “Excursions” is a tricky little piece: deceptively simple, its six dancers play against one another in groups and breakaway solo moments, interlocking in chains and pairing or tripling up. With Samuel Barber’s “Excursions for the Piano” as the musical girder supporting and launching the dancers into eddies of skips, gallops, crawls, and even a butt-bumping scoot across the floor, the piece frolics and meanders, sometimes with loopy clownishness, other times with a darker more subdued cast. Gestural motifs suggest a homespun, conversational air, especially when the dancers lift their fists and to shake them at no one in particular like they are damning someone in anger. The four piano pieces, played with brio by Colin Fowler, appear in reverse order, beginning with four and counting backward to one – another structural trick Morris pulls out of his sleeve. He punctuates easy-going dancers’ strides with hip shimmies, table-top arms palms down, and casual leaps and hops that play the group against an individual. The work unfolds like a picaresque, as the group journeys it seems over, under, through and around the bare stage, their paths seem to demarcate fences, hills, valleys, roads and cul de sacs where they might meander and stop for a moment before forging ahead.

Morris 2 14Oct_BS20457[1] “Petrichor,” the program’s newest work, premiered just this past fall in Boston, and features a live performance of Heitor Villa-Lobos’s String Quartet No. 2. The eight woman, draped in Elizabeth Kurtzman’s chiffon baby-doll length shifts in shades of fuchsia and lavender over sleek, shiny biker suits, recall Isadorables in their airy, tossed off breathy but never breathless skitters, skips and leaps across the stage. Recalling Grecian antiquities in their poses -– a head cocked just so, fingers and hands shaped to emphasize a curve of a cheek or a finely etched chin –- “Petrichor” pays unassuming tribute to the founding mother of modern dance without forcing the issue. Why not return to ideas and concepts dances’ early moderns? That’s a lesson Morris has learned and assimilated well over the years in works that reflect without mimicry or irony their roots in the now oft-overlooked traditions of Denishawn, Humphrey-Weidman and Duncan. The movement sweeps along, the eight women motivated by their soul centers, their arms butterflying in waves, their bodies soaring, their hands sparking like fireflies blinking in the darkness. It’s a lovely, too sweetly realized confection.

In “Silhouettes,” a handsome duet danced on Friday by broad-chested Domingo Estrada, Jr., and slim Noah Vinson, the two shared a single pair of pajamas, one top, one bottom (a homoerotic insider joke from Morris?). The barefoot petite allegro variations could easily have been borrowed from ballet class, likewise the balance-challenging leg lifts or developes. The evening closed with the Texas-style two-step romp, “Going Away Party,” featuring the twangy cowboy blues of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. Clad in Christine Van Loon’s cowboy boots, tight jeans or cowgirl skirts and fringed or embroidered Western shirts, the dancers cavort in gallops, partnering up save for odd-man-out William Smith in Morris’s original role. Playing with the quirky country lyrics, the choreography mimics but doesn’t Mickey Mouse the words with a facetious wink: “arms keep reaching for you …” underscores the partners thrusting their pelvises toward each other -– evidence of Morris’s wicked sense of humor. Pre-“Brokeback Mountain,” “Going Away Party” slyly suggests malleable boundaries between and among the three women and four men, who couple up with sometimes longing looks over their shoulders to another. An amusing evening closer, the work, like those danced before, didn’t provide a meaty centerpiece in the program. That left this viewer longing for a heartier sampling from Morris’s more substantial works –- a “Grand Duo,” “Falling Down Stairs” or “Gloria” — to provide more than just tidbits, but a main course to savor fully.

Photos: “Petrichor” by Mark Morris, courtesy Mark Morris Dance Group/Bryan Snyder
Published February 7, 2011
© 2011 Lisa Traiger


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