This performance was amazing, as I say in this review I published with EdgeBoston.com.
The return this weekend to Boston’s Wang Theatre of L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Mark Morris Dance Group was, without a doubt, one of the most thrilling epiphanies of modern dance. Once again, the Bank of America Celebrity Series is to be congratulated.
I admired Morris’ early work, back when he was pioneering a new queer aesthetic that ignored traditional gender constraints. Then, he costumed and choreographed his dancers uni-sexually and brought a pansexual sensuousness to his creations that set the bar higher for all non-classical dancers. Performances, however, were sometimes uneven.
But this full-length piece is not only rare in the modern dance world, if only for its length and scope, but an astounding achievement for any dance genre. The discipline and brilliance of the two dozen ensemble dancers lends power to the sublime demands of this piece’s movement.
The dancers in all their physical and ethnic diversity rise to the challenge of Morris’ crisp dance narrative. Certain scenes will forever remain cherished memories. The fox hunt causes gasps of wonder. A forest of dancers forming trees and bushes are invaded by the hunt party – a bevy of excited dogs, horses in their harnesses pulling a carriage carrying an aristocratic couple. As the foxes flee in terror off stage, the forest rearranges itself for their return – as if all the players have moved on a quarter of a mile. As always, Morris punctuates his tales with wit: one of the dogs lifts his leg to relieve himself on the bushes.
Can any other choreographer create such compelling beauty from people walking and running? Geometric perfection underpins his changing combinations – twosomes become lines of eight, lines curve into circles and a light touch of hand to elbow gives the snaking streams of dancers an enviable intimacy. The backdrop screens add varied depths to these groups, among whom two mirror each other’s movements with eerie exactitude.
The finale, in which the dancers run in and out of the side screens in varied combinations, achieves a poised supersonic speed. The frequent bursts of applause after scenes, while uncharacteristic for Boston audiences, foreshadows the raw exhilaration of the final standing ovation, the likes of which hasn’t been since the Red Socks won the World Series.
Every element of the production is clean and unadorned – from Adrianne Lobel’s set design that plays graceful havoc with our depth perception, to the restrained, effective lighting by James F. Ingalls. The blousy tops over the mens’ leotards and the bias-cut skirts with color-contrasting underskirts on the women gave designer Christine Van Loon’s costumes the ability to flutter in the wind that the dancers themselves create.
The Morris Group always dances to live music and with the L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato Mark Morris builds on his long-standing collaboration with Craig Smith. The faultless singers and musicians of Smith’s Emmanuel Music (catch his weekly Bach cantata at the Sunday service of Boston’s historic Emmanuel Church) perform Hayden’s 1740 oratorio with text from John Milton and Hayden’s librettist, Charles Jennens. What are the poems about? A conversation between the cheerful man (L’Allegro) and the pensive man (Il Penseroso), mediated by the moderate man (Jennens’ Il Moderato).
Only a couple of decades of the success and status of a choreographer like Morris can facilitate such a magnificent canvas of movement – the cost alone boggles the mind. What other modern dance company has the confidence and resources to mount such a show?
But with Morris, even the most mundane of activities is transformed into a whimsical wonder by his luminous talent. In one memorable moment, the men of the company, coupled in interlocking circles, hug, slap, spank and then hug each other again, in a good-humored folkdance of affection. Dancers transform themselves into birds more dainty than any actual birds. And objective reviewers are converted to fans.
This is what I overheard from a long-time supporter during intermission in the fast-moving line for the powder room: “But Morris has always been so wonderfully rough around the edges. Now this! It’s like the Bolshoi!”