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Mark Morris Dance Group: Mostly Mozart

A brilliant performance of the lyrical V and the debuts of Visitation and Empire Garden -- all played live by Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma -- add up to a very special event. logo
Julie Worden and Noah Vinson in Visitation
(© Gene Schiavone)
The Mark Morris Dance Group's visits to Mostly Mozart, Lincoln Center's annual festival, have become one of the summer's must-see events, and this year's program (which concludes on Saturday, August 22) has proved to be no exception. Indeed, should you be able to find yourself at Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center, consider yourself among the blessed few.

The main reason for that statement is the program's second half, which showcases Morris' brilliant, lyrical 2001 masterwork V, set to Schumann's gorgeous Quintet in E-Flat Major for Piano and Strings, Op 44. Not only is this piece splendidly danced by the troupe, but the music is played to perfection by a quintet led by pianist Emanuel Ax and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The enterprise, to quote William Shakespeare, is "a consummation devoutly to be wished."

As in most of Morris' work, there is no discernible narrative; the pleasure is in watching the 14 dancers -- half of them clad in Tony Award nominee Martin Pakledinaz's blazingly blue navel-baring blouses and briefs; the other half clothed in lime-green t-shirts and pants -- cavort and carom around the stage in various combinations, literally seeming to absorb every note of this glorious score. It's the rare dance one wishes could go on forever.

While the first half of the program shares some discernible attributes with the latter one -- most notably, the sublime contributions of Ax and Yo-Yo Ma -- neither Visitation nor Empire Garden have the same impact as V. Both works were co-commissioned by Lincoln Center, premiered two weeks ago at Tanglewood, and were created by Morris at the same time -- which could be why neither dance seems fully realized.

Visitation, set to Beethoven's Cello Sonato No. 4 in C Major, Op. 102, No. 1, is the less complex if more successful of the pair. It's a somewhat ethereal piece, full of movements that resemble children at play, and the nine dancers -- most notably soloist Dallas McMurray -- appear quite comfortable with the work.

That's less true of the slightly longer Empire Garden, which Morris took on because he had never done a piece set to the music of the 20th-century Charles Ives (specifically, here, Ives' Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano). It's difficult, not especially dance-friendly music, and Morris' choreography alternates between intricate, unusual moves and far-too-familiar patterns. Meanwhile, the large company -- clad in Elizabeth Kurtzman's odd, brightly colored ensembles that look like they were stolen from some Olympic opening ceremonies -- work hard, but it's not quite enough.

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