Pillow talking

By JANINE PARKER  |  August 15, 2007

The following week, the Mark Morris Dance Group arrived for its week at the Pillow, bringing three newish dances (two that premiered this year and one from 2005) as well as Love Song Waltzes, which premiered in 1989, when MMDG was still the house company at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels. The new pieces do not show well alongside the Brahms cycle; whereas the parts of the Genevans’ dances flow into a whole, Italian Concerto, Looky, and Candleflowerdance feel like so many disparate phrases that do not jell.

Morris is invariably lauded for his musicality — but, this side of Merce Cunningham, isn’t musicality one of the first tenets of choreography? And for me, his “music visualization” as some call it, can be cloyingly pedantic. A man next to me replied to his grumbling companion, “Yes, it was boring, but did you see how the movements matched the music?” Do we really need the follow-the-bouncing-ball school of choreography? Morris has put in 25 years as the sole creator for his company, and he’s created many masterpieces in that time — but it’s hard to swallow a program of which three-quarters straddles the foul line.

At least there was live music, performed by Tanglewood Music Center Fellows. In the Andante of Italian Concerto, pianist Yauheniya Yesmanovich surrounded dancer John Heginbotham with a breathtaking hush that helped make this solo a poignant snapshot of one man’s vulnerability and loneliness. And Stravinsky’s Serenade in A — the music for Candleflowerdance — was played with stark simplicity by Yegor Shevtsov. This dance takes place largely within a taped-off square in the center of the stage, a shape that evokes now a gymnast’s mat, with the dancers taking care to stay within the boundaries, and now a boxing ring, with the dancers pushing off one another in preparation for a match. Only toward the end — when the six dancers line up in various formations of the square, then lean, skitter toward a corner, and collapse softly together — does Candleflowerdance feel like more than just a jumble. This is where it should begin; instead, it’s over.

Looky, which premiered in May at the new Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, was the only piece on the program without live music; it’s set to Kyle Gann’s Studies for Disklavier. The museum theme is played out when the dancers begin to assemble on stage, various clusters pointing up or down or out at invisible objects and animatedly “discussing” them. At the ICA, a piano played by itself, player-piano style, via electronic hook-up. On the Pillow stage, an empty piano bench sat in the upstage right corner, on display in its own spotlight, recorded music playing through the sound system. This depiction of how inert objects come to life is alluded to later in the piece, when a group of the dancers freeze like statues while others wander among them, again looking and pointing. They relax and break poses when left alone, then hustle back when a new group of tourists arrives. Although not much actual dancing goes on — and a lot of it is in the form of little vignettes of balletic steps, as if to remind us that we are watching dance, and that these are capable dancers — all kinds of zaniness ensues, as the museum opening becomes a wild party. People get drunk, pass out, flirt, fight. As a silly, entertaining pièce d’occasion to celebrate the new ICA, Looky makes sense; as a theater piece, it feels like a private joke that the audience is not in on.

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 See all articles by: JANINE PARKER