- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

‘Movement doesn’t lie,” Martha Graham’s father once told the famous pioneer of modern dance.

Dancer-choreographer Mark Morris is a shining exemplar of that truth. After 25 years onstage he rarely performs these days. But “In Old Seville,” the opening trio on his company’s program at George Mason’s Center for the Arts this past weekend, Mr. Morris, overweight and nearing 50, remains one of the most brilliant dancers on the stage today. His movements reveal the man — casual, direct, supremely confident, witty and with a campy flamboyance sometimes running just beneath the surface.

He sweeps in, bearded and dressed in a dark suit, heads briskly to a bar stage left, eyes the bartender, quaffs a glass of wine, approaches the lone woman in the bar and engages her in a burst of clattering castanets and fast footwork. She is blond, feisty and short; he is bear-like and towers over her.

Another drink at the bar, another ogle at the bartender, another explosion of steps with Mr. Morris swirling around his partner, arms flung in the air like bird wings. (When he was a teenager Mr. Morris went to Spain with the aim of becoming a flamenco dancer.) Then, as abruptly as he entered, he strides off. Let’s hope Mr. Morris keeps making and appearing in small gems like this.

Lauren Grant was his sturdy partner and John Neginbotham poured the drinks.

With this example of Mr. Morris’ power still in mind, it was fascinating to see Bradon McDonald take over the role the choreographer made for himself in “Rhymes With Silver.” Although Mr. McDonald doesn’t have the same heft, he was stunning in his solos, lighter but assured in movements that reflect the look and stance of East Indian dance. His gallop sideways across the stage, nimbus of russet locks flying and fast, bold movements reminiscent of a Kahtakali dancer, were memorable.

A similar strain of an Indian aesthetic is rooted in the music too — a commissioned score from the late Lou Harrison, with whom Mr. Morris often collaborated. “Rhymes With Silver” is a strong, manly dance underscored by the bold swirls of red and green on the backdrop designed by Howard Hodgkin.

The other two works on the program showed the choreographer’s profound attachment to music as the bedrock of his work.

In “Rock of Ages,” Mr. Morris gives four dancers the simplest of movements then proceeds to weave them into patterns repeated and varied in ways that make the haunting Adagio from a Schubert piano trio the focus. In this instance, dance is truly handmaiden to the music; its simplicity lets us listen more clearly to the music’s radiance.

The roles were taught to eight dancers — four men and four women — and the cast changes every night. Each part was created to be danced alternately by a man and a woman, with the lifts and the partnering and gestures of tenderness to be done by either sex. Mr. Morris has emphasized gender-bending from the beginning, and “Rock of Ages” reminds us that women can be strong and men gentle.

Mr. Morris’ musical tastes are wonderfully catholic. He has choreographed to baroque music, country and western, Tchaikovsky and Brahms, Bach and Leroy Anderson, Yoko Ono and Handel.

Still, dancing to Stephen Foster’s music in “Somebody’s Coming to See Me Tonight” seemed an unusual choice because of the innate sentimentality of these Civil War-era songs. Their nostalgic charm is treated with recognition of its soft grace but danced with gentle, quiet detachment that places the songs in a fresh context.

In this dance, Mr. Morris adds touches that spring from the literal words: in “Beautiful Dreamer” the men cradle their arms as pillows on which to rest their heads; in “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming,” men sweep a woman into the air and set her gently on the ground.

Mr. Morris’ insistence on live music was a deep delight throughout the evening. Cellist Wolfram Koessel’s opening solo in “Rhymes With Silver” and the lyric singing of Mr. Foster’s songs by soprano Eileen Clark and baritone Thomas Meglioranza were a special pleasure.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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