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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 49
Mark Morris Dance Group: The new old and the old new
Arts & Entertainment
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Mark Morris Dance Group: The new old and the old new

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Mark Morris Dance Group
December 1
The Moore Theatre


One thing you can always count on with Mark Morris is great music, always performed by top-notch musicians, always live! You could come for the music alone, with the dance as an added extra. And his choices are almost never from the well-known stuff. The latest presentation by the Mark Morris Dance Group at the Moore Theatre was no exception. This time he gave us a brilliant trio by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, 'Piano Trio No. 5 in E. Major, Op. 83,' and a dark, original score by improvisational jazz trio, The Bad Plus. Two more different works would be hard to find!

'Festival Dance' is a new work that made its Seattle premiere at this performance! It marks the 30th anniversary of the Mark Morris Dance Group and is upbeat, pastoral, and lyrical. Morris' greatest art is his ability to make bodily motions expressive of whatever music he is setting. The connection between the musicians (Colin Fowler, Joanna Frankel, and Andrew Janss) and the dancers seemed as graceful as the music itself. Seattle native principle Aaron Loux and Rita Donahue began alone on the stage. They broke from an embrace and led the first section, called 'Waltz.' In the subsequent 'March,' a different couple (Laurel Lynch and William Smith III) anchored the action as newlyweds. ('Festival Dance' is one of the most clearly heterosexual dances I have ever seen from openly Gay Morris.)

The super-light last section, 'Polka,' was full of Morris' trademark wit and buoyancy, perfectly matching the bouncy lightness of the music. And it formed the perfect contrast to what followed immediately after intermission.

'Violet Cavern' (2004) is dark, dark, dark. It began in darkness at the threshold of hearing, as the drummer softly stroked the cymbals and other musical elements slowly joined in. The jazz trio (The Bad Plus) gradually worked its way up to explosive outbursts with a very in-your-face power that brooked no resistance. Again, Morris had his dancers elegantly match the assertiveness of the music, sometimes with as little as an uplifted arm from a reclining body. Indeed, I got a little restless during a rather long period while the dancers were lying in geometric patterns on the stage floor. But matters soon became more lively and, for me, more communicative.

I was surprised by the poorly sold house on Thursday night, which was only three-quarters full at most. Was it the dingy theater that discouraged people from attending? Certainly the place needs help; the seats are very cramped, and it all seems dirtier than it is. Hopefully the new Downtown Historic Theatre District for Seattle will bring grants for needed repairs and upgrading to the five pre-1930 venues designated. It's being signed into existence as I write. The Moore, where I saw the likes of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Walter Gieseking back in the 1950s, has nice acoustics, a great location, and lots of history. I wish it well!

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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