Mark Morris’ understated barefoot “Mozart Dances” (2006) launched the 2019-20 season for Cal Performances this weekend with three separate piano concertos that are superbly woven together. The first movement, choreographed for eight women titled “Eleven,” was danced to Mozart’s earliest piano concerto, No. 11 in F major, K. 413, and performed by the Berkeley Symphony. The second movement, “Double,” was set to Mozart’s best-known work for two keyboards played by the highly acclaimed pianist Inon Barnatan and conductor Colin Fowler. It featured Mozart’s Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K. 448, and eight male dancers. The concluding section, “Twenty-Seven,” was performed to Mozart’s final piano concerto, No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595, featuring the entire company, pleasantly tying these three sections divided with two intermissions into one satisfying, masterful, full-length dance.
The dances are performed in front of a stage-length scrim of Japanese-inspired-brushstrokes created by the late scenic designer Howard Hodgkin. These large-scale black and white calligraphic strokes are both architectural in scale yet, spontaneous and open ended like the choreography. Hodgkin’s domineering design also compliments Martin Pakledinaz’s breathy costume design with each dance having its own wardrobe. All three dances have an effortless, nonchalant choreography with random repetitive movements that modestly stitch throughout each of the sections. Head swirls, sparring-type lunges, skid and tumbles to the floor, plus handheld circles with dancers falling in and out of this chain of movement, or creating gateways for the others to pass under, were among the reoccurring themes. Adding to this sense of casual choreography was veteran company member, Lauren Grant’s solo in “Eleven” that is hardly distinguishable from that of the other female dancers, whereby the solo becomes more of a counter in singularity than in stylization. The solo stands out only in that she was alone and not because the choreography or wardrobe added something unique to this fluid section. By contrast, Aaron Loux’s superb dancing in “Double” had more of an edge to it as well as a different costume–a frock coat not worn by the other male dancers–that clearly distinguished his solo and duet with the lithe Noah Vinson. Loux has the charisma and a stature that often comes across larger than he actually is, with his leaps having both a grounded surefootedness and buoyancy. Another beauty of this particular concerto is that the pianists, Barnatan and Fowler, are responding to the dancers for their interpretation as much as their playing is moving the dancers.
Mark Morris created these dances in Vienna for Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006, beginning with a relatively unknown concerto (No. 11 in F major, K. 413) and ending with the well-known concerto (No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595,) which is also the most energetic and comical of the three dances. “Twenty-Seven” tightens up all the intentionally loose threads of the earlier segments, while maintaining its delightful feathery movement at a faster clip. Dancers in this final section often enter the stage from a double line that telescopes into the stage from which soloist emerge or recede. As they lay flat on the floor their hands and arms pop up playfully like popcorn adding to this already joyous dance. “Mozart Dances” is like Mozart unleashed, unconfined by what we expect from choreography set to his music, but not unlike Morris’ other masterful and ephemeral works.
David E. Moreno