Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Mark Morris Dance Group

Cal Performances
Sat, May 30, 8 pm
Zellerbach Hall

Mark Morris Dance Group
L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Jane Glover, conductor

Christine Brandes, soprano
Lisa Saffer, soprano
Iain Paton, tenor
James Maddalena, baritone

Chamber Chorus of the University of California, Berkeley
Marika Kuzma, director

This post properly belongs to a certain Belgian benefit, but thanks to some fast talking at the box office, I was able to attend this performance of the Mark Morris Dance Group at U.C. Berkeley. This was a very complex affair. In the pit: a Baroque orchestra with 3 keyboards, vocal & instrumental soloists & a chorus of at least 30 performing Handel settings of poems by Milton. On stage: 24 young & attractive dancers, each in a different brightly colored outfit, following intricate & repetitive choreography, along with lighting changes & colored scrims going up & down every few minutes.

The work opens with 2 lines of dancers running faster & faster through the same point. It was startling, a little scary & elicited gasps from the audience. What followed was a long string of self-contained dances, though nothing matched the impact of this initial burst of speed. Some of the pieces were abstract while others seemed to have scenarios, such as a bucolic hunting scene or an episode in which the dancers imitated a flock of birds. There was a lot of running around & a lot of lifts, & I was often impressed by the dancers' athleticism.

The choreography always hewed closely to the music, but other than the obvious pastoral context, I was never able to discern an over-all thematic arc either in the music or on stage. As the evening wore on, it seemed like we were just getting more of the same. & then there were a couple of lapses in taste that made me think I wasn't understanding Mark Morris's aesthetic at all. The peeing dog in the hunting scene & the circle of butt-spanking men seemed gratuitous to me. Most of the audience had no such doubts, however, & enthusiastically enjoyed every moment & laughed in all the right places.

Jane Glover led the musicians in a clean, cheerfully swaying performance. I was surprised to see James Maddalena in the pit. I have not heard him in years, & he was definitely sounding like old-man-baritone.


The Opera Tattler said...

Sounds like you completely got it, actually. Perhaps next year I'll drag you to watch Alvin Ailey, along with Dodaro.

Axel Feldheim said...

Tattler, thank you for your support. As I usually only attend 1 dance performance per year, Alvin Ailey should fit the bill nicely. I hope there will be no spanking in it, at least.

John Marcher said...

That you and the OT both panned this performance surprised me as I attended one the initial performances around nine years ago and found it thrilling and thought it really captured the essence of Milton's poetry through dance- not an easy task at all.

Maybe something is going on with the MM group? I seem to be the only person around who really disliked his "Joyride" performed for the SF Ballet's New Works Fest last year- I thought it made no sense and was dull.

Axel Feldheim said...

I didn't even think about how the choreography relates to the poems. It was too dark to peak at them during the performance. I have to admit that I find all the talk of Elysium & Hymen & Lyidan airs to be a bit bloodless, though.