Squiggles and lines

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  February 2, 2010

In both these dances, I kept wondering about the relationship between King's enterprising choices of music and his movement intentions. The dancers responded to large metrical units but not to other expressive implications in the accompaniments. In Signs and Wonders, there were tribal rhythms and diverse singers, from children's plaintive call-and-response choruses to shamanistic chants. In Dust and Light, the 14 Corelli excerpts seemed all alike — slow chordal progressions in wildly unrelated keys, sometimes interrupted before they ended. Whoever put the sequence together saved the only selection with a quick tempo for last. Poor Poulenc got reduced to the Agnus Dei from his Mass in G, which opened the dance, and tantalizing bits from two sacred motets that were squeezed between Corellis.

In contrast to Alonzo King's casual musicality, Mark Morris, though equally imaginative in his musical ideas, treats every composition with scrupulous, even worshipful fidelity. The evening-length Mozart Dances, to the Piano Concertos Nos. 11 and 27 (K.413 and K.595) and the two-piano Sonata in D, was choreographed in 2006. It had its Boston premiere last weekend at the Opera House as part of this season's Celebrity Series, with the orchestra of Emmanuel Music led by Jane Glover and soloists Minsoo Sohn and Russell Sherman. Renovations to the pit last summer haven't overcome a muffling of unamplified sound in the house, but Friday's performance was still an audible treat.

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DUST AND LIGHT: In that anti-classical duet you can see in almost any contemporary-dance repertory, the attraction between partners was more like dependency than eroticism.
Mozart Dances is a grand-scale work employing a large ensemble for each of the three components. (Eleven has 15 dancers; Double and Twenty-Seven have 16 each.) It's tightly plotted, not only against the music but within its own structure. Eleven is for the women's group with a kind of prologue for the men; Double features the men, with a late, transient section for women; Twenty-Seven starts off with two clusters of men and women mixed and ends with the sexes separated once again into male and female groups. There's a female and a male solo dancer leading each of the first two parts (Lauren Grant and Joe Bowie), and they acquire seconds in the third part, to make up a quartet that works as a foil for groupings of the other dancers.

In fact, the whole evening has more thematic interweavings. Morris establishes the presumably sex-specific rules of dance right away, by having his groups of seven men or women working in close solidarity so much of the time. But this is only a set-up for deconstructing gender roles.

Grant and the women in Eleven start out looking sturdy and independent, but in the slow movement there are references to George Balanchine's Serenade, an iconic ballet of romanticized femininity. Gender stereotyping is punctured in Double by a persistent feminizing of the men's group. Bowie, their leader (perhaps he's Mozart), is wearing an unbuttoned frock coat in 18th century style over knee-length tights and bare chest. His opening solo is full of frilly wrist flourishes and gracious 18th-century dance postures.

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