Mark Morris Dance Group

March 17, 2011

Mark Morris Dance Group

Mark Morris Dance Studio

Brooklyn, NY

March 17–27, 2011

Reviewed by Susan Yung


Festival Dance. Photo by Richard Termine. Courtesy MMDG.


With the advent of spring comes a fresh, joyful premiere, Mark Morris’ Festival Dance. To a Johann Hummel piano trio played live per company custom, the balletic work is filled with nods to folk and social dance, couched in the accompanying formality of tradition and ritual.


A couple enters, proffering right-angle leg extensions and deferential gestures, followed by lilting arabesques with one arm held high, slightly forward of the head. (Throughout, limbs recall Bournonville’s understated angles.) The dancers waltz once, then double time. A woman is presented by a group of men and vice versa, evoking a Noces-like pre-marriage ceremony complete with ring-around-the-rosies. Martin Pakledinaz’s crisp khaki circle skirts and trousers underscore the sense of a public gathering. In the exuberant finale, lines of dancers (alternating boy-girl) enter holding hands, and the women pirouette in tandem, accenting the jaunty rhythm. The dynamic builds with big swirling lifts and breathtaking counterbalanced partnering. Morris does his usual wizardry with patterns, swapping dancers between lines, repeating motifs that become familiar friends.

(2010) is Morris’ only work just for women. He shifts from dreamlike, suspended arabesques, weight tipping backwards, to curious gestures (a phantom seashell held to the ear, and wary, tremulous, spell-casting hands), to powerful, whirling leaps in a curving défilé. Dancing to to Heitor Villa-Lobos, the women wear Elizabeth Kurtzman’s chiffon baby doll dresses, in bright and pastel colors, over silver bodysuits. The atmosphere is fevered, cyclonic, and a bit conspiratorial. A cool Rita Donahue, a self-possessed Amber Star Merkens, and a powerful Lauren Grant emerge as the group leaders.

The Muir
(2010) is performed to Irish and Scottish folk tunes arranged, interestingly, by Beethoven, with three vocalists singing hilarious lyrics of tunes with titles such as “Cease your funning” and “Sally in our alley.” The playful yet courtly feel is enhanced by Kurtzman’s costumes—beribboned black corsets over long, tulle peasant skirts for the three women, and gray surplice shirts and trousers for the three men. Chainés end with arms sweeping through big arcs—typical of the expansive lyricism of Morris’ movement—yet the emphasis is bound by gravity, not in defiance of it.


This superb program, performed in the cozy top-floor space at Morris’ studio, was exhilarating proof that the choreographer, whose company is celebrating its 30th year, has reached yet another level of accomplishment.


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