Mark Morris Dance Group
in Four Saints in Three Acts
(© Katsuyoshi Tanaka)
Mark Morris Dance Group
in Four Saints in Three Acts
(© Katsuyoshi Tanaka)
Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thompson's Four Saints in the Three Acts has had a long and unusual history, from its 1934 Broadway premiere through various concert versions, and then the 2000 dance created by the award-winning choreographer Mark Morris, and now being presented by the Mark Morris Dance Group at BAM through March 3.

The work, with its fractured, almost nonsensical verse and slight narrative (which actually covers four acts), isn't the most conventional framework for a dance piece, and it's not necessarily Morris' most satisfying work. Choreographically, it features many charming, if not necessarily innovative group scenes, and there are fewer virtuoso moments than one might expect.

Still, there's little argument that the current production is an especially fine one, benefiting from the strong vocal and musical contributions of the MMDG Music Ensemble, under the direction of Stefan Asbury, and the Trinity Choir. (The acoustics of the Howard Gilman Opera House don't always make it easy to understand all the words, but that's both a blessing and curse).

Mairaa Kalman's colorful backdrops add a lot of visual appeal, and Elizabeth Kurtzman's vaguely Mediterranean-inspired costumes are pleasing to look at, all aided by Michael Chybowski's expert lighting.

The company, which is perhaps the youngest I recall, dance with great precision and enthusiasm, and the two soloists, Michelle Yard (as St. Teresa), and Samuel Black (as St. Ignatius) bring the necessary personality and stamina to the roles.

A Choral Fantasy, which was presented after intermission, finds Morris in the familiar territory of working with classical music -- in this case, Ludwig van Beethoven's "Fantasia in C Minor for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, Op 80."

Alternately lyrical and vaguely militaristic in its movement (a feeling reinforced by Isaac Mizrahi's green-and-gold uniform-like costumes), the dance moves fleetingly along, occasionally bursting into grandeur. Again, the troupe (all 15 dancers) is beautifully precise, although one wishes at times for a bit more individuality.