ARTS & IDEAS: The Mark Morris Dance Group performed three classics of the choreographer's repertoire Thursday night at the Shubert Theater. Each was accompanied by the Yale Choral Artists and the Yale Collegium Players, respectively the home-town baroque orchestra (with period instruments) and choir (with countertenors and all). Mark Morris himself conducted the ensembles.
"A Lake" was first performed in 1991 and has lost none of its freshness or charm. It seamlessly combines modern-dance movement with ballet, and the effect is like watching troupe of 18th century court dancers that lost interest in the trappings of point shoes a long time ago. Set to one of Haydn's Horn Concertos, "A Lake" had a feeling of effervescent, especially during the French horn's jaunty cadenzas. It took a while for the horn to hit its stride, but once it did, its bounding lines were a delightful accompaniment to the swishing frocks of the dancers.
That Morris's choreography is like watching a fugue unfold one layer at a time was evident in 1981's "Gloria," the show's final piece. On the surface this is a humoresque of sorts, beginning with a female dancer imitating the movements of something like a marionette. Another gag was dancers pushing their prostrated selves along the floor like salmon swimming upstream.
But when the laugh wore off I was struck by a profound thought. If you take the dancers not as individuals but as an organic whole, they moved like flocks of migratory birds or large herding animals, which, if viewed from a distance, can be said to possess a logic of their own that must work its way through a fugue-like process to a logical end. While Vivaldi's "Gloria" sings praises to the Lord, Morris seems to sing praises to nature. Or maybe it's just me.
Which brings me to the second work, Bach's "Jesu, meine Freude" (1991), the one I'll end with, because it was the most gorgeous of the three works and the most overtly religious (in the pan-theistic, non-denominational sense).
It began with a big blast from the Yale Choral Artists and two men wearing nothing but flowing linen slacks, one behind the other, standing still but for hand gestures suggesting a four-armed priest delivering a homily. I was reminded of Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, a beautifully brutralist tribute to the heavenly host. Morris's movement was as spare as it was laden with rich religious sentiment, two opposing feelings finding wholeness in one.
The company performs again tonight at the Shubert.
IF YOU GO: What: The Mark Morris Dance Group When: 8 p.m. June 22 Where: Shubert Theater, 247 College St. Tickets: $20-$50 Info: artidea.org
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