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Mark Morris Dance Group

By Susan Yung

Mark Morris Dance Studio

Brooklyn, NY

Through April 14, 2013

 

Mikhail Baryshnikov with Rita Donahue (left), Aaron Loux, Dallas McMurray, and Maile Okamura
Photo by Tim Summers, Courtesy MMDG

 

 

In a run of studio performances, Mark Morris Dance Group showed three intimate dances and a larger-scale one. The mid-sized premiere, A Wooden Tree, is set to quirky songs and poems by Scotsman Ivor Cutler (a recording, in contrast to live music for the rest of the program), and guest stars Morris’ old collaborator Mikhail Baryshnikov sporting a fishing cap, miming and cavorting with seven other dancers in 1950s-era street clothes. The lyrics range between plain sense and nonsense—"Stick Out Your Chest" (Baryshnikov does so, “out of his vest,” as the song goes); "Little Black Buzzer" (he conspiratorially taps out a morse code message as the women dazedly stutter-step around him); and the vaudevillean post-bow encore, "Cockadoodledon’t." Baryshnikov blends in the best he can, but he lacks the primed-canvas neutrality of his fellow performers, who channel much of their expression into the body.

 

A Wooden Tree, photo by Stephanie Berger
From left: Aaron Loux, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Dallas McMurray in A Wooden Tree
Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy MMDG

 

This knack was showcased in another premiere, Jenn and Spencer, a pseudonymous duet (Weddel and Ramirez are the last names of this magnetic pair). Their faces remain mostly placid, at least relative to their body language, which speaks volumes—they prowl around each other, fists raised, and slither menacingly between the other’s legs. Henry Cowell’s Suite for Violin and Piano is at times weighty and melodramatic, matching the mood of the dance. When Ramirez’ pants' seat accidentally split, it showed why you should change out of your black-tie gear before getting too physical. (He continued with exceptional aplomb.)

 

Crosswalk, by Stephanie Berger

From left: Chelsea Lynn Acree, Noah Vinson, Laurel Lynch, Spencer Ramirez, and Billy Smith in Mark Morris' Crosswalk
Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy MMDG

 

The large-scale premiere was Crosswalk, to Carl Maria von Weber's work for clarinet and piano; its grand patterns and bold moves would fare better in a big theater. The three women wear orange tops and circle skirts, and the eight men, white tees and blue pants designed by Elizabeth Kurzman. The uncharacteristically banal, descriptive title held true for at least the first section, when dancers assume starting block stances and hurtle across the stage, with one collapsing at the central intersection. High notes are reflected in punchy lifts (two hoist a third to shoulder level); they lie down like odalisques posing and ripple their arms insouciantly. Morris indulges a penchant for inventing cloyingly cute catch phrase movements to brand dances—here a weird funky chicken variant, hands on hips and weight shifting from toe to heel; swooping arms making figure eights; or convulses of the torso with arms looped in first position.

 

But there are lovely sections. Four pairs of men in flattened shapes drift slowly across the stage as the three women leap and bound vigorously. In another, Noah Vinson seems to have mysterious control over two women, who move haltingly and arachnoid-like in front of him.

 

The Office, photo by Stephanie Berger

From left: Spencer Ramirez, Maile Okamura, Jenn Weddel, and Dallas McMurray in Mark Morris' The Office
Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy MMDG

 

Rounding out the program was The Office (1994), a rare darkly theatrical work by Morris in which six dancers frolic as, one-by-one, they're called away. It feels less politically analogous now than in previous years, but it retains great mystery and pathos.