By Sheila Kogan, ZEALnyc Contributing Writer, August 30, 2016
Mozart Dances by Mark Morris was commissioned for and performed by the Mark Morris Dance Group as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival in 2006 at the former New York State Theater. It was revived for Mostly Mozart's 50th Anniversary this year and presented at the now David H. Koch Theater.
The Mark Morris Dance Group is made up of a diverse ensemble of dancers, various sizes, body shapes, and colors, but they all work together for a single purpose in this production - to embody the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The program was comprised of three sections, each built upon Mozart's compositions: Eleven, Piano Concerto no. 11 in F major, K412 (1782-83); Double, Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K.448 (1781); and Twenty-seven, Piano Concerto no. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595 (1791). So many dance concerts use recorded music, so it was especially delightful to hear the wonderful Mozart music beautifully played by the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra conducted by Louis Langrée, along with the extraordinary pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Inon Barnatan.
In the first section, there are simple steps and gestures -- walking, skipping, jumping, waving -- the way a 4-year-old child might move if asked to dance to the music. While each section could be performed alone, the three sections work beautifully together with increasing sophistication of movement. By the third section, the little jumps become grand jétés, the walking becomes intense and the choreography generally becomes more complex. Some movements are repeated, which helps to weave the three sections into one (but some of those movements are done frequently enough to become tedious). Throughout, the music dictates the rhythms and the emotions of the dances, and the dances illustrate the music. The motion never stops.
The scenic design by Howard Hodgkin is huge, bold, individual brush strokes on the back wall that differ slightly in each section and are lighted with different colors by James F. Ingalls, who generally shines a bright light overall, allowing us to see the dancers clearly. The costumes, designed by Martin Pakledinaz, differ in each section, as well. For the first section, the women wear unfortunate sheer black dresses showing a version of bra and panties underneath. (The "peek-a-boo" aspect seems inappropriate.) In the second section, the women waft in wearing ballerina-like dresses: grey leotards with ankle-length diaphanous chiffon skirts. Finally, the women are in bright-white sun dresses. The men's costumes (versions of short tights with loose, open shirts) also go from black to grey to white for each section. I was impressed by the lead male dancer's costume in the second section -- a grey modern version of an 18th century sleeved waistcoat, resembling the silhouette of the highly structured coat that Mozart might wear -- it was lightweight and flexible enough to allow the dancer to move freely.
The dancers work mainly as an ensemble in modern dance idiom (bare feet), with group patterns, synchronized gestures, eccentric turns, quirky rhythms, dramatic falls and balances, many entrances and exits, and unexpected moments of humor. Occasionally an individual has a striking solo. Aaron Loux and petite Lauren Grant danced the two principal roles, filling the stage with authority, beautiful technique and dynamism. They were outstanding.
There is no story and no need for one, but there is plenty of emotion. More than just using the music as a base for movement, the dances that Morris has choreographed might be considered a delightful visualization of the music. The movement is a wonderful version of the music - the gorgeous, glorious music of Mozart. Experiencing Morris' Mozart Dances, like Mozart's music, is joyous and uplifting.
Mozart Dances was presented by the Mostly Mozart Festival at the David H. Koch Theater on August 24-27, 2016. Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; choreography by Mark Morris; originally premiered on August 12, 2006; commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Scenic design by Howard Hodgkin; costume design by Martin Pakledinaz; lighting design by James F. Ingalls. Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langree, conductor; pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Inon Barnatan. The Mark Morris Dance Group dancers: Sam Black, Rita Donahue, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Leslie Garrison, Lauren Grant, Brian Lawson, Aaron Loux, Laurel Lynch, Stacy Martorana, Dallas McMurray, Maile Okamura, Brandon Randolph, Nicole Sabella, Billy Smith, Noah Vinson, and Michelle Yard.
Sheila Kogan is a Contributing Writer for ZEALnyc and writes frequently on theater, dance and other cultural events.
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