Magazine article The Spectator

Sit Back and Enjoy

Magazine article The Spectator

Sit Back and Enjoy

Article excerpt

According to a juicy, behind-the-scenes rumour, an eminent dance personality recently claimed that Mark Morris's works are nothing but steps and music. Although negative and blinkered, the definition highlights and captures an important aspect of the choreographer's art.

Enticing immediacy and transparent clarity are, in fact, distinctive traits of Morris's style, as can be seen in L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, set to Handel's pastoral ode and aptly considered a masterwork of contemporary dance. While other dance makers who have dealt with revered, non-dance scores from the past have often come up with obscure choreographic renditions, Morris's approach to Handel stands out for its accessibility. Instead of delving into one of those fashionable socio-political interpretations of the various issues related to the score, or burdening the choreography with mind-boggling parallels between the time the music was composed and the present era, Morris manages to conjure up a seamless series of visual solutions that are immediately understood and appreciated. The `sit back and enjoy' feeling that permeates the entire evening does not imply that the work is superficial and predictable, however. On the contrary, its apparent simplicity relies on and stems from an in-depth analysis of the pastoral ode, the outcome of which reveals the multifaceted genius of the choreographer as well as his wide knowledge.

As with the much praised rendition of Monteverdi's madrigals seen last summer in Edinburgh, in the earlier L Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato the dance goes far beyond a mere transliteration of the situations suggested by the sung text. Without being pedantic, Morris gives an exhaustive, humorous and passionate contemporary portrayal of Handel's world, cleverly scattering several references to the Baroque period through the dancing.

Images from 18th-century opera, drama, frescoes and the life-style of the Enlightenment thus materialise almost unexpectedly in each of the 30 dances performed. None of these cultural allusions, however, constrains or impinges on a full appreciation of the dance. These references constitute a kind of subtext that is up for grabs; it is for the viewer to decide if he/she wants to play the game and spot them. …

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