Altar and ego

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  January 30, 2009

Morris has argued that the gender of the dancer doing Dido and the Sorceress doesn’t matter, but when it’s a man, this Dido and Aeneas represents the attempt of homosexual love to break free of external disapproval and internal guilt. (That could even explain, if not redeem, the angular, awkward choreography.) When it’s a woman, the story becomes less metaphorical and more personal: this woman, this man. When Mark danced the two roles, it always seemed to be about Mark (“I’m funny, I’m fabulous, I’m America’s idol” — and he was), in the same way that Baroque opera tends to be about self-expression rather than relationships. Aeneas was an afterthought. Amber Darragh has that same narcissistic quality when she’s in the spotlight — whether as Dido or the Sorceress (and I never see much difference between the two). When she’s with Aeneas or Belinda, however, she becomes half of one, and that lifts Dido to another level; last night’s indelible moments saw her skipping hand in hand with Aeneas and, anchored by Belinda’s hand, leaning out into the universe as if she couldn’t decide whether to stay or go. Craig Biesecker’s Aeneas conjured Balanchine’s Apollo in his reach and scope; he was a hero Dido could look up to, despite being confined by two-dimensional movements that made it seem he’d been lifted from a Greek frieze. Maile Okamura as Belinda curled around the score rather than kick-boxing at it, and she riveted attention elsewhere rather than at herself, as when at the end she bent over the fallen Dido.

The end of this Dido is its glory. Morris, making his Boston debut in the pit, mostly avoids Baroque rhetoric, especially in the choruses, which are tight and singing. The vocal soloists are rewarding but not remarkable; it’s as if their personalities had been sublimated to the choreography, and it didn’t help that the words the women sang were seldom intelligible, though Kendra Colton did well with Dido’s last utterances. It’s here, after Aeneas has left, that Morris stops trying to compete with Purcell and lets his right brain kick in. The dancers process off stage past Dido, two by two, doing less but saying more. The chorus settles into a glorious threnody, Morris outdoes himself (Craig Smith would have been proud) at maintaining the musical line, and yet it’s the dancers’ simple movements that command attention. The last two to go off are Belinda and the Second Woman; the Second Woman disappears but Belinda lingers, love that, unlike Aeneas, doesn’t leave. At moments like these, everybody loves Chunky.

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