Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mark Morris Dance Group

Cal Performances presents
Ojai North! June 12th-15th, 2013

Mark Morris Dance Group
Hertz Hall, Berkeley
June 13th, 2013

In his lengthy career, Mark Morris has played many different roles - dancer, choreographer, musician, conductor, company director, just to name a few. And this year, Morris can also add another title to his resume. In collaboration with the Ojai Music Festival, Cal Performances presented the third iteration of “Ojai North!”, a four-day performing arts extravaganza, musical direction by Mark Morris. With a diverse offering of dance, music, and film, this extraordinary event also marks the official closing of the 2012-2013 Cal Performances season – a brilliant coda to another fantastic year of artistic excellence.

As part of the “Ojai North!” festival, Mark Morris Dance Group performed a mixed repertory program on both Wednesday and Thursday evening – 1993’s “Mosaic and United”, followed by Morris’ world premiere of “Spring, Spring, Spring”. Both pieces featured phenomenal live accompaniment: American String Quartet and The Bad Plus, respectively.

“Mosaic and United” teetered on the brink of hearty dissonance and unexpected consonance. And with a twentieth century classical composition by Henry Cowell, unexpected is absolutely the correct word. Rather than the typical V-I authentic cadence, the consonance was instead found in perfectly tuned major seconds and minor sevenths, which Morris then attempted to mirror onstage. Morris’ choreography, and specifically the relationship he creates between the choreography and score, is usually fantastic, but “Mosaic and United” was not very successful. The dance was all over the place, and not in a good way. At times, the cast of five was assembled in sculptural vignettes, like picturesque Greek scenes. Then, the physical vocabulary would abruptly shift to post-modern, evidenced by pedestrian running and a rather dramatic series of angry grand battements. Next, the group moved onto a social-step dancing segment, almost a stomp time-step leitmotif. While the first part of the title certainly suggests a hodge-podge like presence of multiple different entities, where was the ‘united’ portion?

In contrast, “Spring, Spring, Spring” was an artistic triumph. Morris’ choreography was at its best, full of the frenetic energy demanded by the violent, sacrificial “Rite of Spring” story. The men’s role in the ballet was greatly expanded, with a recurring quartet throughout. With this increased presence, the amazing male talent in this company got a chance to shine. Morris also played with the narrative implications of the story with his oscillating version. Chaîné turns with an off-balanced upper body felt out of control, contrasted with moments of extreme clarity (the plié arabesques en avant and en croix). And Morris definitely made this ceremony about the entire community. As the cast traveled in three lines, interweaving upstage and down, it was clear that this event was happening to all of them, every single member of the group. The experience was a collective one. As the lights fell and “Spring, Spring, Spring” concluded, the audience still had no idea who was the chosen sacrifice.
Pictured: Mark Morris Dance Group performs Spring, Spring, Spring at Cal Performances. Photo: Peg Skorpinski 

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