Magazine article The Spectator

Feeling Its Age

Magazine article The Spectator

Feeling Its Age

Article excerpt

I was not surprised to find the Sadler's Wells Theatre packed last Tuesday. Thanks to his eclectic talent and to his refreshingly unconventional approach to both art and culture, Mark Morris is one of the most popular dance-makers of our time. The enthusiasm with which his creations are normally greeted reveals that his dance idiom suits both the layperson and the highbrow, without ever slipping into superficial sensationalism or obscure pedantry.

More than anyone else operating along the same lines, Morris has managed to take full advantage of working with extremes and contrasting values. He has tackled 'sacrosanct' music, whether in the form of madrigals, oratorios, baroque operas or 19th-century ballets, with unequalled deliberate nonchalance, thus demonstrating that the dance idiom need not be subjugated to any of the cultural constraints commonly associated with those scores. And, in more than one instance, his choreographic images have enriched that high art music by providing the viewers with an unexpectedly refreshing and innovative reading.

Furthermore, Morris has successfully challenged the stereotypical aesthetic values of the dancing profession, showing how wonderful movers, such as his dancers and himself, do not need to conform to conventional physical standards. However, his use of unorthodox physiques does not call for a technically easier kind of choreography. On the contrary, his works have always been underscored by demanding, yet always smooth-looking technicalities, as evident in the company's sold-out past appearances in London and Edinburgh.

Why, then, was I not the only one to leave the theatre feeling slightly disappointed and a tiny bit bored? Probably because the triple bill lacked that variety that is generally needed to spice up a composite programme and make every piece look unique.

Other reasons, however, should be taken into account. Alas, nothing ages as quickly as a dance piece, as the first item on the programme proved rather boldly. Created in 1983 and revised in the following year, Gloria is not, in my view, one of Morris's best works. It combines Vivaldi's elegiac notes with a danced action that, at first, seems to have little in common with the sung Latin verses. According to the choreographer - who addressed the audience in a sort of post-performance talk - the principal inspiration for what appeared to be a rather jazzy movement vocabulary punctuated by comic gestures derived from the movements of an American healer. …

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