With A Smile...

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One can't help being cheerful at the end of a Mark Morris Dance Group performance; either that or being disgusted with all the cheeriness being exuded by the dancers, choreography, music, and even the audience.

With titles like "Lucky Charms," costumes with pictures of rubber ducks, and men in chartreuse spandex pants, how could one leave not being amused?

Mark Morris is known for choreographing dances closely related to the music he chooses, be it classical or the Violent Femmes, and the dances in this performance reflect that. Almost all the major movements and shifts in direction of the dancers can be directly related to changes in the music. This gives the movement and music an almost equal importance (especially since there are live musicians accompanying each piece-very unusual for a dance company because musicians are so expensive).

Mark Morris seems to choose music that has a definite pattern and beat-no 'chance' music from John Cage here-which helps to make the dances more accessible to the general population and less aimed at intellectual art snobs.

This performance had music by five very different composers, including Haydn, Erik Satie, and Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein)-quite a sampling of different eras and kinds of classical music for music lovers and novices alike.

Although Morris often chooses complicated music and choreographs elaborate group movements, the setting was quite minimalist. Sets were nonexistent except for a transparent shower-curtain-like thing in the first dance "Resurrection." And the lighting design consisted mostly of a wash of light covering the whole stage and a heck of a lot bright (dare I say cheery?) background colors.

One way Morris keeps the audiences's focus is by using and repeating patterns of movement but varying the number of dancers and changing the paths these patterns take. Occasionally his highly organized dances seem to belong in some ideal futuristic world, perhaps too ideal and too ordered at times. But Morris does not always keep to his patterns. He also expertly and spontaneously breaks from them causing an unexpected chuckle from the audience.

His dance steps are not especially complex; it is the group patterns that are complex. At several points in "Resurrection," twelve dancers are positioned in a circle-like formation on the ground; they then perform a wave like movement like those seen at sporting events (only more impressive and much more dancerly). The simple formation is mesmerizing in its simple beauty.

"Resurrection," believe it or not, was cheery. It was not somber as its name might imply. In "Resurrection", set to Rogers' "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," a "ghost" breezes through several times and yet no one seems at all alarmed. In fact they happily continue dancing, indifferent to any pain or just not willing to notice it. Her head never bobbed as she did a kind of tiny-stepped jog on her tip toes.

The dance "Something Lies Beyond the Scene" had the added effect of having poetry recited to the music. As Mark Morris is known for choreographing to the music, imagine him choreographing to a more understandable language-English. It was kind of like watching a nature program on TV: strange things were occurring in the background and the narrator was just calmly explaining it all.

Although all the costumes were ambitiously creative, the glittery ones in "Lucky Charms" take my prize as being the most eye catching. The choreography definitely reflected this sparkly character too, with quite a number impressive high kicks and leaps.

After seeing Mark Morris you are almost guaranteed to leave a little happier, though no closer to reaching enlightenment. His intricate group choreography is still guaranteed to impress even if you don't go in for that cheery stuff.


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