Review: Mark Morris dancers capture beauty of life’s journey

Harmony, grace, beauty and irrepressible joy flowed onstage at the Shubert Theater Friday night when the Mark Morris Dance Group presented three works, with choreographer and troupe leader Mark Morris conducting the Yale Collegium Players.

In their opening dance, "A Lake," set to Haydn, the 10 dancers paraded in an elegant, atmospheric manner in the early section, emitting little hops, feet flicking in front, reminiscent of Baroque dance (the distant gentility of court dances softly contoured the bold American modern dance form). The dancers also posed for some sculptural extensions, or wept with their torsos, balletic arms arched above their heads.

The dance was at times contemplative, at others it sought an elusive harmony, the dancers yearning for perfection. A break in this pursuit was suggested in repeated movements, such as a hand outstretched, as if touching a wall, hinting at cracks in the seamless façade. At the core of the dance the tempo increased, and vigorous jetes crested through the music, and a flurry of pirouettes captured the exuberance that spun out of the strings.

In their second work set to Johann Sebastian Bach's "Jesu, meine Freude," the dancers appeared other-worldly, the men bare chested, dressed in loose white pants. The female dancers wore long, white sleeveless gowns embellished with lace. The Yale Chorale accompanied the Yale Collegium Players - which plays on historic string instruments - creating a mood of worship.

The dancers alternately were transported with celestial pining or were then more restrained, letting their hands repeatedly fall back behind themselves, slowly, as if carefully whisking away cares - like a horse tail shooing away a fly. Whether executing the somber, careful gestures of ritual or the ecstatic movements of pure joy, the dancers were transcendent. It was a world they scooped into their arms, which they flung wide open, as they lunged low to the ground, as if to capture the divinity within the music, if only for a moment.

"Gloria," the last dance of the evening and an early Morris masterwork, was set to Vivaldi's Gloria in D major. The dance is opulent, offset by muted costumes, as if nothing was going to upstage the movement itself, which poises itself perfectly to inhabit the music. One man tries to lift his arm repeatedly, supported by his hand, only to have it crash down - emblematic of our own struggles to erect and redeem ourselves throughout life's journey. Then, there are joyous, brief duets, wavering above the top notes, representing idyllic moments, yet doomed to a fragile, ephemeral experience.

The dance pays homage to the music, which in turn flings itself at heaven's gate, at times quivering in ecstasy, at others pealing with longing. The dancers embody these emotions, sometimes as one ensemble, at others as solos performed downstage as emotionless passersby ignore them - suggesting one's journey - one's joys, triumphs and sorrows, while all-consuming, are still played out against a back-drop that is a universal force (in this case the everyday, mundane world) that is unto itself, unaware, unseeing, and greater than, oneself.

The International Festival for Arts and Ideas continues until June 30. For more information on shows and events, visit


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