- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

George Mason University in Fairfax may seem off the beaten track, but it’s where the creative dance action is these days. Two of the country’s most highly regarded, innovative dance makers are calling GMU’s Center for the Arts their D.C.-area home — the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) just gave two performances there this past weekend and Shen Wei Dance Arts is scheduled to do so on May 5.

The richness and range of Mr. Morris’ work is remarkable but it emanates from several constants: movement marked by simplicity, casualness and directness; and an intimate involvement with the music, which is never just background filler. The choreographer meets its structure and ideas in his own full-bodied way and the music is always live, and played well — a rare treat in the modern dance world.

These virtues made “Sang-Froid” a delight. Set to piano music by Frederic Chopin, much of it used in the wanly romantic ballet, “Les Sylphides,” Mr. Morris brought his abundant imagination to overly familiar pieces.

Little touches of humor in the way formations suddenly coalesced and broke apart, touches of folk dance, surprise endings and warm interplay combined in a new work of art that harmonized with Chopin’s original intent in a fresh way.

The program was modest. MMDG had danced two of the works here recently and the newest, “Candleflowerdance,” was weak. The program noted a dedication, “For Susan Sontag,” the late writer, and the stage was adorned as its title suggests, with candles and flowers — a more obvious tribute than one would have expected from Mr. Morris.

“The Argument,” and “Grand Duo,” both seen previously, were vibrantly danced, with the latter providing an exhilarating aerobic workout for a finale.

Mr. Morris has been much in the news lately: he is making his Metropolitan Opera debut in May with the world premiere of his staging of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice;” he will conduct when his “Dido and Aeneas” is performed in Urbana, Ill., later this month; his evening-long program, “Mozart Dances,” will be seen in London and New York this summer with Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki at the piano; his acclaimed “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato” will be presented next year in Seattle; and it was recently announced that he will choreograph “Romeo and Juliet” to Sergei Prokofiev’s original, never-performed score and scenario, to be commissioned by Bard College and “an international consortium of co-commissioners” who will have the right to present it after “R & J” premieres at Bard the summer of 2008.

Seeing the MMDG group yearly at GMU is fine, but it can show just the tip of the Morris iceberg. The only organization in Washington with the means to produce the range of his endeavors is the Kennedy Center. Since it has become so accomplished at bringing themed festivals here, how about a Mark Morris festival, spread over several seasons, with a full-length work every season for, say, five years?

Washington could be one of the first to see his new setting of “Romeo and Juliet.” Perhaps it’s overkill with that ballet, but one thing is certain — Shakespeare’s lovers, as seen by Mr. Morris, are sure to be like no others.

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MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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