Rhode Island audiences have long been treated to national caliber dance troupes in Rhode Island College’s Performing Arts Series. February offers a double-whammy with the Mark Morris Dance Group at Roberts Hall on February 7 and Ronald K. Brown’s group Evidence the following week (February 15). Brown founded Evidence in 1985 and has created works for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, the African American Dance Ensemble, and the play Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats. Since Morris established his company in 1980, he has choreographed more than 100 pieces for the American Ballet Theater, the San Francisco Ballet, Théatre Royal de la Monnaie (the national opera company of Belgium), and the White Oak Dance Project (with Mikhail Baryshnikov).
Morris’s company is doing a month-long 25th anniversary celebration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in March, performing three of the four numbers they will do in Providence and giving one its New York premiere. That piece, Candleflowerdance, dedicated to the late Susan Sontag, is set to Stravinsky’s Serenade in A, with pianist Steven Beck onstage surrounded by candles and flowers. West Coast reviewers have noted Morris’s precise matching of movement to music and the alternation of pace, between frenetic and still, both signatures of his choreography.
Two pieces created when his company was in residency in Belgium are perhaps Morris’s best known: L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, set to Handel, and The Hard Nut, a satirical take on The Nutcracker that has become popular in recent years. Many of Morris’s works have a humorous edge; others are more philosophical. Considering the large body of his work, its depth as well as its breadth, many critics who once thought of Morris as ballet’s bad boy now speak of him as a worthy successor to Balanchine.
At 47, Morris is at the peak of his creative powers. An omnivorous music lover, he has set dances to the songs of Michelle Shocked and the Violent Femmes, to traditional Tahitian tunes and Rumanian folk songs, to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. He is adamant about using live musicians whenever possible, and the MMDG Music Ensemble travels with the company. For Somebody’s Coming to See Me Tonight, set to a medley of nine Stephen Foster songs, a vocal quartet and string trio will accompany the nine dancers.
For Grand Duo, violinist Sarah Kapustin joins Beck on piano for Lou Harrison’s Grand Duo for Violin and Piano, a four-part dance with a full complement of 14 dancers. This 1993 piece has been described as tribal-like circle dances with lots of flesh bared on both men and women. The counterpoint to that and the one piece performed to taped music is Going Away Party, featuring nine songs by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.