Mark Morris Live from Lincoln CenterPBS 16 August 2007 @ 8pm
Posted 20 August 2007 - 04:00 PM
Posted 20 August 2007 - 04:22 PM
Posted 20 August 2007 - 04:23 PM
Just wanted to remind folks that Croce's "Writing in the Dark" is a terrific collection of her New Yorker reviews.
Posted 20 August 2007 - 05:02 PM
Posted 23 August 2007 - 02:59 PM
But I do have something to try to say about Villella's remark about Farrell that Jacobs puts in her "final note": Although that was back in 1998, five years after Farrell was fired (again) from NYCB, what I've seen onstage in recent years makes me think that if she had been considering herself apart from the others, "first among equals" as stagers of Balanchine, she may be right. Her own troupe, without enough budget to hire the best dancers on normal contracts -- they get 11 weeks with her, about a third the usual, I think -- looks in important ways more like Balanchine's company did than any other I see. Even Villella's, thrilling though it is. (I'm really looking forward to seeing their Jewels in Ft. Lauderdale this season.)
I like to think of myself as smarter than to pick a fight with a former boxing champ (which Villella was), and I hope I haven't gone and done it now. We'll see. In any case, you can only disagree with someone who cares about the same thing as you do.
Posted 28 August 2007 - 02:44 PM
That's just an early example; for me, it gets worse. I liked the occasional down-to-earth comments by Balanchine (who famously resisted interpretation) and Verdy she quoted, but she pushes them aside too eagerly. For the most part, I'm sorry, bart, but I think that, on this occasion at least, Jacobs builds a castle, a castle in the air, not Balanchine, and I'd suggest other writing about Jewels. (I do embrace her basic idea of mystery, though.)
But as I've noticed, this thread is about something else, or was, and I'd like to record that when the curtain finally went up here on Morris's Mozart Dances Friday night, the 24th, the dominant pleasure for me for the first moments was that I could see the dancing without all the fancy interference put in the way by "Live from Lincoln Center"!
And as I watched, I remembered that for some, Lauren Grant's initial identification with the solo piano (later it gets more complicated) in "11" looked mechanical, although I took this simplicity in the beginning as introductory, but when we got into the first-movement cadenza, the whole thing lifted into the air for me, and pretty much stayed there, at a varying altitude, for the rest of the evening; the middle movement of "Double" was certainly a high plateau (as it was in the TV broadcast, apparently because all the dancers were together, although jammed into the sides of the frame); but then "27" was more complex, and I didn't get into it so well until the third time I saw it (from row Q, instead of Z and then X).
But I missed the refinement and nuance of ballet, even when I enjoyed the way Morris's dancers "swam" in the music -- It's not so bad to be a "slave" to a great master -- Mozart -- and anyway, Morris shows himself to be not such a dumb slave as an inspired listener, impelled to get up and "dance" with the old boy. (I also take Morris's title as double meaning.)
Being one of the BTers who have put some dance on video, I don't see what's so hard about doing this better than it was done on PBS this time. It's always been my own goal to "disappear", and let the viewer see the dancing by showing the space and letting the dancers dance in it. When I video-taped a ballet-school performance in a theatre, I didn't just frame the stage and sit down; when the dancers were going to use only part of the stage, I showed that.
We see a lot of television and film, and we can adapt to and orient ourselves to a space we are shown, if we're helped to do so, but if odd angles are thrown in, or worse, if "partials" -- shots showing only part of a dancer's body -- are mixed in, our orientation is upset: If a partial is followed by a shot of the full stage, it aggravates the familiar "ants" problem, and if it's the other way around, having adapted to the stage space, suddenly it looks like a giant, a fifty-foot dancer. So I never showed less than half the stage width myself, and I also liked best those moments on "Live from Lincoln Center" when we could see some space. I also liked the soft transitions, dissolves, in "Double", because they helped to make the televising "disappear", which would have been reason for me to use them throughout.
When I did it, I attended many rehearsals, so I knew where the dancers would be at each point in the music, and I could plan my sequence of shots accordingly. I was alone, and I wonder whether the big budget of a production like "Live from Lincoln Center" might have been better spent on a much smaller crew putting in their man-hours doing the same thing, and making a simpler, more satisfying result.
Posted 28 August 2007 - 04:29 PM
I really enjoyed your thoughts about the Morriz/Mozart eveing.
In other words, although this is not ballet, it's a tribute to ballet as much as it is to Mozart.
About the evocative title, Mozart Dances: Morris strikes me as merging his dance with the music in a very rare way. It's obviously something he thinks a lot about. During the intermission interview he referred to this several times. "I don't like to have a sound initiate a movement." "I don't want to see the dancers responding to the music" or "having a thought bubble about the music." You could say that he was actually pointing to the faults of an awful lot of contemporary choreography, balletic and non-balletic. At one point he says: "I could be accused of musical visualization -- like that's a crime or something!" This is a quality that Balanchine and Morris at their best share. Morris's version of it is more complex, and rewarding, than it appears at fist acquaintance.
At one point in the documentary, Morris corrects a dancer who is performing a fall to a prone position. He tells him to land just on the beat. The dancer does, and it is striking. Then the ensemble does exactly the same thing, every one of them. It's not simplistic "moving on the beat" -- or the equally predictable "moving against the beat" -- both of which you can find in much current choreography. Morris's movements ride the music so that, after a while, it's possible to forget that music and movement are separate. This kind of oneness with the music -- lightly garbed in a technique that conveys the impression, to me at least, that is carefree and spontaneous -- can be found throughout the piece. It's what makes possible all those instances when one dancer after another makes a movement (jump, turn, port de bras, whatever), to be followed by the next dancer doing it in precisely the same way, then another, then another. Or that enables the dancers to move together, emerge briefly solos or pdd, then merge back into the ensemble. The business with the women falling to the ground in "Eleven" -- or the men's circle dance in "Double" -- are two of the most inventive and striking examples of this kind of precision.
Posted 28 August 2007 - 04:48 PM
In other words, although this is not ballet, it's a tribute to ballet as much as it is to Mozart.
Posted 28 August 2007 - 05:03 PM
Editd to add: I appreciate your point about Paul Taylor. I haven't, however, personally seen him work on the scale of this piece.
Posted 28 August 2007 - 07:46 PM
Posted 29 August 2007 - 12:58 PM
As for this visit to the "ballet-vs.-modern" debate, I think bart expanded very well on my passing metaphor about the dancers "swimming" in the music; I'm not sure he agrees with me, but I agree with him! There's a lot to like in Morris's work, and I may not have expressed that very well, though I did say the evenings in the theatre gave me pleasure right from the beginning, and rose to some heights from a beginning which drew me in. bart catalogs Morris's considerable virtues impressively.
But, carbro, I also feel "the lack of refinement and nuance" less in Merce's work, and Taylor's too. (Taylor's "little" Dante Sonata comes to mind: Through seeing dancing, we "get" that these people are not having a good time of it, and -- this is the miraculous part for me -- they're not going to have a good time of it, ever, but stay on this level, one of Dante's "circles" to be sure, but we get this from the performance. A small miracle.) BTW, I wish I had seen that Sugar Plum demonstration! Any video of it at the NYPL?
And as for Jewels, bart, I don't actually regret not discussing that ballet here, because there must be a thread or several here where we have been doing that already (I'm a little pressed for time to look). Maybe I detect an eagerness on your part to do so, because of the imminence of MCB's performances? I was just thinking of maintaining some clarity among the threads here, so readers can find what they want.
Helene, I thought there was less "ballet" in Worden this time around, so you may be happier next time they appear in your part of the world. In fact, overall, it seemed like a more homogenous company this time than two years ago.
Posted 29 August 2007 - 04:17 PM
Part of the problem, I think, was the camera work. So much of this particular dance's impact arises from the cumulative effect of seeing gestures and phrases echoed between individual dancers and the group across all three of its sections, and the cutaways to the musicians or to isolated parts of the stage undermine that. (In at least one instance I swear the camera seemed to be locked on a corner of stage with not a single dancer in view!) If, as reported, the camera quickly cuts away from Noah Vinson's flying leap to embrace (I think) Charlton Boyd in Twenty-Seven, it must surely undo some of the work's emotional logic: in the second movement of Double, Vinson is never wholly integrated into group. In fact, at one point he appears to dis-integrate the group by his presence: the circling men drop hands -- separate themselves from each other as well as Vinson -- when he moves into their midst. They continue to perform the same steps as they did before, but without being physically connected to each other. So I think it means something that it is Vinson who flys out of the group to embrace the outsider who has just entered the stage alone; to dimish one of the work's most affecting moments to cut to the musicians seems just plain boneheaded.
Something about video seems to have "flattened" the quality of the dancers' movement, too. The beautiful, swirling dervish turns with the slightly out of sync rolls of the head (the dancers appear to spotting on the sky if they are spotting at all) are just mesmerising live, but barely register on tape. Lauren Grant is, what, all of five feet tall but looked positively monumental whirling through them in the theater. Perhaps ballet's heightened line and dimensionality help it translate better to the small screen. (And for whatever reason -- maybe scale, maybe lighting -- the back drops are much more effective in the theater than they are on the screen. The women's costumes for Eleven look much more chic in the theater, too.) The goofy stuff looks goofy live, too, but Morris' goofiness has never troubled me much in any event.
I found much to be delighted by and to enjoy, and found some things utterly fascinating. I was surprised, for instance, when I noticed just how much and how fast the individual dancers were moving in some of the slower passages, because the overall shape that the group was making -- and which was the center of attention -- was evolving at at tempo much more in keeping with the pulse of the music.
I'm glad I have the tape, but I feel privileged to have seen Mozart Dances live.
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