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Mark Morris Dance Group, 25-27 February, 2011, Harris Theater, Chicago

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25 February: While The Muir and Socrates seemed quite vital to me, Petrichor, to Villa-Lobos's Quartet Op. 56, seemed synthetic. I listen as I watch, and Morris, not unlike Balanchine, shows in his choreography how he hears his music, but I do not get on with Villa-Lobos's music, which sounds banal to me, and it often seemed to me Morris was even emphasizing accompaniment figures (with arm movements of massed dancers, for example) rather than "partnering" his composer's themes, as he often does in the suite of [scottish?] folk songs arranged by Beethoven in The Muir, though there are here some "illustrations" of the texts I didn't hear in the melodies. But Morris may have got on to something in this Villa-Lobos piece I've missed.

With Socrates - easily worth the price of admission, not to mention transportation - Satie's understated, meditative music well suits the scale of the narrative - the life and last moments of a major figure in a society where reflection on the meaning of life was part of that life. Satie's text and his setting convey both the dailyness and the depth of this group of people, and Morris's often implicative choreography rises pretty well to the momentous occasion in its many facets. Not the least way it makes its continual, varying effect is what Alastair Macaulay called its unusually great sensuous appeal.

For that matter, the dancers looked good all evening, not least because of the costuming and especially the lighting, which, however, seemed just a bit dim, seen from the middle of row R.

(I got this location online, by gaming the Harris's system: In spite of the offer on screen to let you "select your own seat," you're only able to select what section of the theater or price range you want, and the number of seats; after that, the system selects locations and lists them. So I just kept ordering seats, noticing they were scattered around the center of the section I'd selected, until I saw a location I liked. Then I canceled the others - not knowing for sure whether an even better location among those not offered was available - and proceeded.

I much prefer the system airlines as well as some performing-arts venues, like NJPAC and the Edinburgh Playhouse, typically use: They show you an interactive chart with the available seat locations identified; you click on your choice from the remainder, and you're done, confident that you got the best choice of those available.)

Another major pleasure was provided by the MMDG Music Ensemble, consisting "merely" of eight fine musicians, a mezzo, a tenor, a baritone, a string quartet, and a pianist. They seemed all that was needed for a wide-ranging program, ingenious if you thought about it afterward, but too beautiful and involving at the time - maybe except Petrichor, which still looked good, even if it never coalesced into an organism for me - for the realization to surface.

A minor problem: I couldn't read the supertitles for the first and last dances without taking my eyes off the dancers, and beautiful as they were even standing still, I didn't want to do that. The solution seems to be to read the texts or "Librettos" printed in the program beforehand, so that all you need is a very quick glance upward and then back - too quick really to read anything unfamiliar with understanding but just enough to check where the performance has got to.

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