Classical Music is Dead*

Why Mark Morris Dance Group makes us love Handel Oratorios and the 80s…

Posted in art, concert, fashion, music, review, we like by Nicole Merritt on 08/05/2010

We love pastels too sometimes...

Is classical music really dead? Mark Morris doesn’t think so. In fact Mark is so crazy about classical music, that he started one of the only large dance companies in the U.S. that insists on bringing their own musicians on tour to perform with them live. Surely an expensive and risky endeavor, Mark has stated in many interviews that this is an essential element needed to make his works feel alive. This is just one of the many reasons why we at NCP love the Mark Morris Dance Group (http://markmorrisdancegroup.org/), and tonight was no exception…

Sitting down in the first ring of Daniel Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center for the Mostly Mozart Festival, my first thought was, “I’m so freakin’ tired. How am I ever going to sit through a two-hour Handel oratorio without passing out?” Little did we realize that we were in for an awesome sensory overload. It takes a special kind of artist to make a Handel Oratorio seem modern, but Mark Morris more than manages to do so with his choreographed work set to Handel’s “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.” Choreographed in 1988 and inspired by paintings by Blake, and poems by Milton, this work of art has many muses. However, its Mark’s vision of life, beauty, and fun that shine the brightest throughout this grand piece.

With fantastic pastel leos, tea-length dresses, and cut-off tops, this work reminds me one of giant human kaleidoscope circa 1988 (credit going to costume designer Christine Van Loon). With inter-changing colors and a series of frames for the set-design, the setting at times almost appears digital. The oratorio is comprised of four singers, a pit orchestra, and an outstanding choir. Having heard rumors that the Mostly Mozart Festival orchestral musicians were not always the tightest group, this was certainly not the case tonight. My personal favorite was the choir, and lyric soprano Lisa Saffer. Lisa’s crystal clear voice was the perfect imitation of a flute and a bird in the “Sweet Bird” section (that song is hard!).

There are supposedly 32 little stories within this work, but what I picked up on was Mark’s ability to translate the music into perfectly compatible physical movements. While this sounds like an easy thing to do, Mark demonstrates the breadth of this skills by playing with this concept throughout the work. In the one of the movements, the featured dancer is the perfect embodiment of a bird, with spirit fingers to match the tiniest trills in the flute and voice. Equally stunning were the representations of flocks of geese, where the company of dancers appeared at first to fly together, and then without warning the second half of the flock separates off and assumes flying another direction. Mark mimics the layers of music by adding lines and layers of dancers. The effect is something like swimming in a pool of colors. In another movement, Mark shows his silly side with gender-bending roles of women carrying men, and better yet bottom smacking circles of boys which I think was part of an Accompagnato (but I cant be sure because I was distracted by bum-smacking – plus it was dark in there!). Who doesn’t love a choreographer that can make you laugh and feel like you’re watching something profound at the same time?

In any case, this is the perfect work to introduce someone new to the Mark Morris Dance Group, or to make you fall back in love with his works. “L’Allegro, il Penseroso” is stellar on every level, with beautiful music, exciting choreography, and stunning visuals. This show will run tomorrow and Saturday night (August 5-7) at Lincoln Center, so if you have a chance…this is NCP tested, approved, and recommended.

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