There was a full house to welcome the Mark Morris Dance Group back to the
New Victoria Theatre for their first return performance since their
appearance in the inaugural Woking Dance Umbrella season 5 or 6 years ago,
since which time Morris' reputation has grown hugely. To judge by the large
number of people who stayed behind for the question and answer session with
the choreographer afterwards, a lot of whom seemed to be serious dance fans,
the New Victoria's committed dance policy now seems to be paying dividends,
and of course the previous week's excellent reviews from Sadler's Wells must
have helped, too.
I had made the trip down to Woking to see a number of works not shown in
London: Silhouettes, Dancing Honeymoon and The Office, as well as
Peccadillos and I Don't Want to Love, but as it happened the programme was
changed to include Morris' phenomenally successful new work "V", so the only
previously unseen work was The Office. I was a little sorry about this, as
I'd heard good things about Dancing Honeymoon and was looking forward to it,
but presumably demand for "V" had been high.
I Don't Want to Love, a work for seven dancers dressed in white, for the
most part in what could be loosely be referred to as nightwear of different
types, is danced to Monteverdi madrigals, for which lyrics and a translation
are provided. It's worth spending a while reading them first, if you can,
as they do give an extra idea of the flavour of the pieces. A couple of
sections, "Zefiro torna"and "Eccomi pronta ai baci", reminded me quite
forcefully of Morris' earlier work, "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il
Moderato", with dancers spinning across the stage and leaping with alternate
arms flapping like birds. I liked this rather better on its second viewing
than when I initially saw it - I think the first time I found it hard to get
my brain round the music, lyrics and movement all at the same time.
The Office, to a quartet by Dvorak, began with six dancers, including Morris
and Guillermo Resto, in casual office garb and six chairs at the back of the
stage for them to wait on. They danced together in a rather East-European
folk-dance-influenced style (the piece was created on a Slavic group), then
a man in a suit, armed with a clipboard, called them away one by one,
reducing the number of dancers each time in something reminiscent of a game
of Ten Little Indians. I found the trio (Morris, Resto and one of the
female dancers) particularly effective, with the dancers dancing two against
one, reflecting the patterns of the music. Having seen something a bit
similar, but darker, done by a French physical theatre company a few years
ago, I may initially have read more into the piece than was intended, but
what I was expecting to happen at the end didn't. Only, in that case, why
did Resto very deliberately take the place of the last woman and leave? If
you see it, do let us know what you made of it.
Morris himself appeared again after the interval in Peccadillos, which
seemed to be a little different from when I'd seen it at Sadler's Wells, but
that may just have been due to the change of stage, or possibly the fact
that I'd been dodging other people's heads there to see what was happening.
The incongruity of such a bulky man dancing so amazingly lightly, to a
plinky-plonky miniature piano, was extremely amusing, and the piece went
down, it seemed to me, even better than at Sadler's Wells. The show
finished with an unscheduled performance of "V", which I've written enough
about already (my third time in a week - and I can't get the music out of my
head!), and again that got an absolutely huge reception.
... ... ...
Finally, a few tidbits from the post-performance talk with Mark Morris:
He rarely commissions new music, but is a big Baroque fan (we'd noticed!).
Among his influences he claims Busby Berkeley, Fred Astaire, George
Balanchine and Merce Cunningham.
He's working on a full-length production of Purcell's King Arthur with
English National Opera, and Sylvia for San Francisco Ballet.
And, on "V":
He decided for a change to have male/female partnering to see what would
happen (his partnering usually tends to ignore gender completely - M/M, M/F,
About the creepy second movement, he referred to it as the "scary, scary,
shuddering ... bloodcurdling, knife-to-the-heart part". At one stage he had
the dancers just walking (instead of crawling) across the stage to the
music, but it just looked random - like a night of the living dead - so
finally, he had them try it on all fours, as if they were trying to scale a
glass wall, but horizontally, and that worked - it gave him the creeps. (So
my comparison to cockroaches was a little wide of the mark - I should have
remembered that it's Paul Taylor who has the insect fixation, not Mark