Mark Morris – King Arthur

Mark Morris – King Arthur

King Arthur
Mark Morris Dance Company

(Note: Arthur Lazere, the founder of this website, was a Mark Morris fan. It was fitting that the Mark Morris Dance Company would make its American Premiere of the dance-opera, ‘King Arthur’ in Berkeley, on the very day that Arthur Lazere died in a hospital a few miles away, in San Francisco. I’m sure he would have loved to hear the Purcell music and see what Mr. Morris was up to. Needless to say, Arthur Lazere will be greatly missed.)

In his day, Henry Purcell was a form-breaker. His ‘English Opera’ was a theatrical blend of spoken dialogue and music, not at all like the sung-through ‘Italian’ version of opera. His ‘King Arthur’ which debuted in 1691 using the text by John Dreyden, a leading poet of his day. In 2006, Morris has chosen to dispense with all narrative all together, to stick with the glorious music and charming lyrics, and create something unique – a dance/opera/vaudeville, what he calls, a ‘pageant’.

What a strange clash: the highly inventive costuming by Isaac Mizrahi puts things very much in a sort of post-punk London, while the music by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (conducted by Jane Glover) and a fabulous cast of singers imported from the English National Opera (where the piece premiered to mixed-reviews last June) is strictly by-the-book. The scenic elements (Adriane Lobel) are of the bare-bones school, with folding chairs, hanging curtain sections, rolling platforms, even a refrigerator on wheels. What Morris does with the piece is create an homage (and satire) of things English within his customary style of music visualization. The result is an entertaining evening of humor, dancing and great music.

The news is not the dancing, which is pleasant enough but rather constricted by the scenic designs. Also, unlike previous works (‘Dido and Aeneas’, ‘L’Allegro’) where music was an opportunity to fill the stage with ravishing patterns and light, Morris invites the soloists onto the stage, where, despite the presence of anything particularly Arthurian, they get involved in the goings-on, complete with much gesturing of the arms. Oh, and the dancers get to stand stock still at various moments and sing, like Broadway choristers during a finale. The real chorus, played here by the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus, creates some of the most gorgeous sounds of the evening– this is music made for reveling and bawdiness, just as Morris has presented it.

Michael Wade Simpson

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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."