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Mark Morris at the University of Washington

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Mark Morris Dance Group just appeared in Seattle for it's 15th consecutive year as part of the University of Washington World Dance Series. Sadly, because of costs, MMDG will not be appearing next year, and they're not on the Seattle Theatre Group dance series either. (We don't have a weeping smilie, or it would go here.)

The program opened with Somebody's Coming to See Me Tonight, a gentle and touching work from 1995, set to songs by Stephen Foster. The music was as fine as the dancing, with particularly idiomatic singing by baritone Jesse Blumberg in "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Gentle Annie," and a lovely rendition of "Linger in Blissful Repose," (if I counted correctly) by, I believe, Eileen Clark. (According to the program notes, Blumberg will give recitals in NYC and Washington, DC, and if these pieces were any indication of the overall quality of his singing and interpretation, they should be well worth seeing.)

Last year's Cargo complete the first half of the program. Set to Darius Milhaud's La Creation du monde, the program note explains, "Cargo Cults of the South Pacific believed that manufactured western goods ('cargo') were created for them by ancestral spirits." In some ways, this might be Morris' "Rite of Spring," meets "Prodigal Son," and it made uncanny use of props: first a single long pole, and then two other matching ones. Lauren Grant was lifted on the pole by two other dancers, first as if she was a human sacrifice, and then as if she was an animal on a spit. Several dancers tossed one slowly to one another, using the ground as a pivot. Seven or eight of the nine dancers performed a lovely long adagio with a single pole, lying on the floor, head to foot, with each set of dancers raising it in a sitting position and then returning to the floor, and finally lifting it from one end, like a mast. It was like woven movement. Work with the poles alternated with propless dancing, some of it rather rambunctious, to the jazz strains of the score. Eventually, the group split into threes, and much of the movement was repeated, although diluted by the break-down of the group. Finally, all three poles are tossed casually on top of one hapless dancer, who is, presumably killed by the onslaught.

The second half started with the four-person Rock of Ages, a 2004 work to Schubert's "Adagio" from the Piano Trio in E flat, D897. Four dancers -- either two men and two women, or three men and an woman -- dance as a group and in couples. I particularly liked the slower passages, which featured gestures that highlighted Joe Bowie's supple arms and upper back, in a pas de deux that was repeated. The program ended with Gloria, which was revised in 1984. I have seen this work before, at Jacob's Pillow, but it was nothing at all like what I thought I remembered. It was vintage Morris, with a large ensemble of ten.

Lauren Grant: when she was featured or dancing in unison, the other dancers were beautiful counterpoint. When she was in the background, it was time to notice the bass line. There was resonance around her each time she was still. Apart from being distracted by Amber Darragh's abdominal muscles in Cargo ( :clapping: ) I couldn't keep my eyes off her, and I think that's been true since she first joined the company. Short and muscular, she's nothing like Paul Taylor physically, but I would love to see her in the studio take a crack at the lost Paul Taylor solo in Episodes.

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Sadly, because of costs, MMDG will not be appearing next year, and they're not on the Seattle Theatre Group dance series either.

fwiw, they are apparently still scheduled for George Mason U. (in Fairfax, Virginia) on Feb. 23 2007. At least according to last week's flyer from GMU.


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I saw the Friday nite's performance.

This was my 1st time seeing the MMDG. I haven't seen all that much modern dance so my opinion is essentially worthless, but I will say I was somewhat disappointed. I am probably a bit of a "ballet-snob" and tend to love only it (I am also an avid fly-fisherman, but unlike most of my fishing friends who love to catch whatever, I tend to be snobbish and only fish for trout in high mountain settings -- believe it or not, I think these tendencies are related :)). OTOH, I absolutely loved Pilobolus when I saw them last year at the same venue. So who knows what that makes me :dry:.

Clearly MMDG has its roots in classical ballet. I really liked the ballet discpline, but at the same time, the freedom afforded by modern dance. My favorite was Cargo. As Helene described it (remarkably well BTW) the use of the "pole props" was spectacular. There was such tension and something primordial about how these dancers became a "tribe" around those poles. The movements that the poles made possible (via each dancer being able to use the support of other dancers via the pole) was striking. The other pieces were a bit too much gesture for my tastes. It may not be PC to say this, but I am snobbish enough to feel that several body shapes were not what I like to see in dancers -- I have no way of knowing, but I suspect that at least some of these extremely skilled dancers would not be able to find a place in a ballet company for this reason.

I also agree with Helene that the singers and instrumental musicians were fantastic. I was truly moved by their musicality -- especially in the 1st piece ("Somebody's Coming to See Me Tonight"). I noted with interest that these musicians got a more enthusiastic applause than the dancers after this 1st piece.

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I was in the audience Friday as well, glad to see the company again, but sad in advance that they're not scheduled to perform next year. Everything was new to me except Gloria, but all the work seemed very familiar -- I could think of analogs in the repertory to most everything they danced.

Cargo was probably the most powerful of the new work -- he seems to be tapping the same mysterious vein that he did in Polka (to the Harrison Grand Duo). He's created a specific population here, with a set of beliefs and practices. I could easily have told stories about that tribe and their world after seeing the dance.

(Interestingly, with the exception of lyrics sheets for things like Dido, I don't remember MM using program notes before. I think I would have had the same visceral reaction to the dance without the details, but I don't know that I would have thought of cargo cults without the note)

Some people give Morris grief for the literal nature of his dances, but that's never bothered me. Whether it's the mimetic stuff in Somebody's Coming to See Me Tonight (going back to Bedtime, or further back to Songs That Tell a Story) or the musical analog (especially the rhythmic correlation) I think he uses a powerful tool in a skillful and subtle fashion. In Somebody's Coming he points up the sweetness of Foster's songs without becoming gooey or hokey. Perhaps it's his folkdancing background, but he treats these works with respect.

I wish I'd been able to see Rock of Ages more than once -- I have a feeling that I'm only skimming the surface of the work, and that there are structural things going on that I'm missing. On a first viewing I'm just catching the top layer.

I love Gloria, and I was so glad to see it on this program, especially since it will be awhile before the company comes back to Seattle. In the back of my mind, the original cast kept making appearances, dancing alongside their current colleagues, which made a full stage even fuller.

I was sorry not to see Julie Worden this time around, but Joe Bowie was dancing especially well -- he just keeps getting more lush.

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