Mark Morris Dance Group – All Fours, Serenade, Grand Duo, Going Away Party

Music from the program is included in these CDs:

If anyone says Mark Morris doesn’t have a political bone in his body, why then, in the casting of the bitter-sweet country western trifle, Going Away Party, was the one African-American dancer cast as the odd man out? “Dreams don’t make noise when they die,” sang Bob Wills, long dead, whose recording with his old-timer group,The Playboys, is so charming that Morris chose to break his own rule about live music and open a concert with a tape.

The dance is a crowd-pleaser, full of smiles and sex. This is a lowfallutin’ dance that hides its form and lets the dancers’ technical clarity offer an easier way into the jokes. Only the extra guy, Charlton Boyd, lets you in on the sadness that the lyrics allude to. After all, it’s not just a party, it’s a going-away party. “This is a dream I’m telling goodbye.

All Fours, a brand new piece, had its world premiere at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley on September 12. Coincidence? Or was 9/11 on Morris’ mind? The new dancewas to Bartok,music on the road to atonality, and featured two teams of dancers, one clad in baggy black, the other in translucent white. The darkness vs. light theme translated kinesthetically by dancing that was alternately weighted, Doris Humphrey-style struggle, then a clean, balletic athleticism.

The Bartok String Quartet Number 4 was a sometimes strident, rhythmic, non-romantic affair. Morris’ visualization of the score sometimes overwhelmed the music: he forced heaviness and gloom on the austere pluckings of a string quartet. The white movements, on the other hand, made the Bartok flourish and sparkle with dancing that seemed to meld string pizzicato with the soft taps of bare feet on the wooden floor. The white was all about clarity, ease.

Morris has traditionally employed a flock of great, idiosyncratic dancers, the kind that look dorky, come in tiny, chunky or skinny packages, believe in what they’re doing and burn separate impressions in a group wholeness.But when he’s not working with his group these days, he’s often working with ballet companies, and this influence, these dancers with their focused techniques and streamlined bodies, who approach Morris’ movements like thoroughbreds,has obviously had an effect on him. Technically, this leaves the home company looking a little disadvantaged in the new work.They’re not supposed to be ballet dancers, are they?

On the other hand, the white-clad quartet, Craig Biesecker, Marjorie Folkman, Bradon McDonald, and Julie Worden, made you breathe easier when they were on stage. They brought the redemptive quality of supreme dancing with them. These four could handle anything; they were completely clear in their expression of Morris’ technical and musical challenges. The good guys even had themore interesting choreography.

Something new for Morris, one of white-clad dancers,Bradon Mcdonald, in particular,looked like a star, a Baryshnikov thrown into the deck.McDonald seemed to be on another level, technically and spiritually.

Other pieces on the program included a new solo for Morris, Serenade, and the 1993 masterpiece, Grand Duo.Serenade, to the late Lou Harrison’s Serenade for Guitar, was a tame affair. Morris has been quoted saying he decided to break an unwritten rule of choreography about the use of devices by using castanets, a fan, finger cymbals, a shiny length of pipe, and a box to sit on. The result did nothing to dissuade us from agreeing on the old rule. Picture a big, long-haired man in a dress dancing around with toys. Morris lessens our respect for his other fine choreographies by putting himself out like this, and putting us through it.

Grand Duo, a big tribal group piece with loin cloth costumes and shadowy lighting, showed Morris at his most primal. AnotherLou Harrison piece, Grand Duo for Violin and Piano, was augmented with stamping feet and slapping hands. Men were shirtless and then wore skirts with bare asses; the women, with slit skirts, were showing lots of leg. The qualities of fourteen sweating bodies in circle dances, jabbing at the space and running like hell, pulled the earth right out of the music. Grand Duo was like folk dancing on mushrooms. You could practically smell the dance.

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Santa Fe, NM
Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For culturevulture.net, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."