I liked the way Morris snuck up on us with this comment on the incarnations of an audience, but I thought the dance aspects of the idea were awfully slight. Two of the other three dances on the program also seemed more challenging to the mind than to the body. The Argument, which premiered in Boston eight years ago, is set to folk-song-derived pieces for cello and piano by Robert Schumann. Three couples, in different temperaments, find themselves at odds, and we perceive their differences through gestures (he grabs her shoulders, she shrugs away . . . ), acting (furious looks), and movement patterns (a couple do a few steps in unison but immediately get out of phase).
Simple walking steps can lead to skipping, running, jumping, as the dancers absorb a rhythm from the music, and later in the piece the musicians send little whiffs of csárdás and waltz blowing across the movement. Often the music’s propulsive energy is transferred to precisely calibrated gestures.
The acting in Morris’s work never looks spontaneous because it’s so formally organized. His dance vocabulary always seems dependent on a concept or a musical trigger, but it often seems transparent, lacking in an emphasis of its own. In Candleflowerdance, six dancers form and re-form their grouping within the boundaries of a square laid out on the floor. I’ve retained almost no specifics of this dance, except for the dynamic dissonances of Stravinsky’s Serenade in A.
Grand Duo brought the program to an uproarious conclusion. Lou Harrison, another fabulously wacko American composer, was a friend of Morris’s, and his music has brought out the choreographer’s best. Grand Duo is a tribal rout for 14 dancers, who evolve from cryptic faux primitif posturing into a simulated battle between two teams that charge at each other and retreat without actually coming into contact. As the pianist (Steven Beck) punches out tone clusters with his fist, the dance ends in a galvanic, stomping ritualized frenzy that makes the audience laugh out loud through its cheers.
Along with the versatile Beck, the MMDG Music Ensemble for these performances included cellist Wolfram Koessel and violinist Georgy Valtchev.
Maybe I just assumed that Palladium Nights would be a show for Ballet Hispánico, but it turned out to be more of a showcase for the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra of Lincoln Center. Although it was billed as a collaboration, the show’s origins are obscured in the program. It looked to me like one of those touring projects that keep performing companies working and earning money between home engagements.
PALLADIUM NIGHTS: A south-of-the-border Riverdance?
The objective is to evoke the famous 1950s New York night club, the Palladium, in the days when mambo was king. Arturo O’Farrill’s big band, 18 brass and percussion players, was stationed across the back of the Shubert Theatre stage, and a few tables and chairs were scattered around the edges of the dance floor.