Mark Morris Dance Group

April 19, 2002

The Mark Morris Dance Group, accompanied by violinist Yo-Yo Ma and percussionist Zakir Hussain, premiered the Silk Road Project piece Kolam.
Courtesy Cal Performances

Mark Morris Dance Group

Zellerbach Hall, University of California
Berkeley, California

April 19?21, 2002

Reviewed by Rita Felciano

There is a reason the Mark Morris Dance Group calls the Bay Area its second home. Cal Performances?s Robert Cole has been supportive of the company since before it went to Belgium, when Morris was better known for his ability to épater les bourgeois than for his dance-making. This investment in a then little-known artist has paid off.

Today Morris has a large and faithful audience here. But partner him with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and tabla player and percussionist Zakir Hussain, and tickets to his most recent engagement, which introduced the world premiere of the splendid Kolam, as part of the Silk Road Project, simply melted away.

In Kolam, Morris played with symmetry and balance in an almost painterly way. Images imprinted themselves on your retina even as they dissolved, at first individually, then in small groups, and finally in a polyrhythmic triple circle dance for the whole ensemble. Canons and mirrors abounded as dancers fell out of, or were pushed and pulled from, stances held just long enough so that you couldn?t miss them. Looking two-dimensional, their silhouettes slid or stepped horizontally across the stage, reversing directions, repeating patterns, one pulling the next one out of the wings. The initial isolated poses?a headstand, a yoga stretch, a curl in fetal position, a repose echoing Manet?s Olympia?scattered and gave way to men bearing women aloft by their armpits. The guys dove them gently, like kids playing with toy airplanes. Even as the tempo picked up at the tabla?s percussive insistence, the loping walks and runs in plié floated along on softly padding feet, which finally propelled the dancers into a pulsating circle of silence. Later on, ankle bells only added to Kolam?s mesmerizing serenity, though punctuated by Morris?s witty use of arms?stretched ones that ended in fists, wrists hanging limply from sharply angled ones, fluttering hands and prayerful crossings.

Hussain?s multilayered score, in addition to highlighting his own brilliant tabla playing, sent Ma into the stratospheric range of his cello and offered the opportunity for a lively syncopated jazz solo by Ethan Iverson. The inclusion of a bass (Ben Street) was a brilliant idea; his gentle, almost electronic-sounding drone put a foundation of otherworldliness under this latest artifact of Morris?s protean imagination.

The program also included the 1995 World Power and last fall?s darkly luminous V, which had received its unofficial premiere in Berkeley in the aftermath of September 11. Created before that event, it is now dedicated to the City of New York. Despite Ma?s stunning contribution on the cello part of Schumann?s Quintet in E flat for piano and strings, the performance felt oddly pale. It looked as if the dancers couldn?t quite create the requisite connecting tissue. World Power, excellently accompanied by the Perfect Fifth chorus and members of the Indonesian music ensemble Gamelan Sari Raras, only grows on repeated viewing. Paired as it was with the new Kolam, it gave us a completely different perspective on Morris?s take on Asian-influenced dance and music.