Mark Morris Dance Group brings joy to Krannert audience & cadets

Mark Morris Dance Group brings joy to Krannert audience & cadets

As I watched the first two pieces in the Mark Morris Dance Group concert on Thursday evening at Krannert Center, I assumed, incorrectly, that they were older because of the influence of folk dance in the choreography.

"The Muir," a piece for three couples, set to nine old folk songs performed live, premiered in 2010 at the Tanglewood Music Center. "Festival Dance," for six couples, premiered in 2011 at the James and Martha Duffy Performance Space at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"The Muir" is about young love; I seemed the three couples had broken off from a larger festival we couldn't see.

I was curious as to what dance critic Joan Acocella, who’s written a biography on Morris, thought of "Muir."

"Everything is carried by choreography: in this case, a great deal of artful turbulence — runs and jumps, entries and vanishings — appropriate to the subject of young love," she wrote after seeing it last year at Morris' company building in Brooklyn, N.Y."

"Festival Dance" was a joyous romp for six couples, danced to Johann Nepomuck Hummel’s Piano Trio No. 5 in E Major, Op. 83. At the talkback with Morris after the concert, one woman asked, "How did you inspire such a look and feel of joy in the dancers?"

"They’re paid. Not great, but steady, and there’s health insurance and there’s hot water in the building," he said, alluding to the Mark Morris Dance Center, with six fully equipped studios and all the amenities.

He also said the piece, though complicated and fatiguing, is fun for his dancers. Other reasons they look joyful in "Festival Dance": they like dancing with each other and trust each other and the band, he said..

The final piece was the more narrative "Socrates," danced by 15 company members to the three parts of Erik Satie’s neo-classical "Socrate" for voice and piano or small orchestra. At Krannert it was sung in French by Michael Kelly. I had to read the English supertitles.

My concert companion, who is French, did not.

"He didn’t make a mistake singing in French, at all," she said. "He barely had an accent. All the pronunciation — very good."

My French friend seldom attends arts events, preferring to stay home with her little French poodle. (No kidding.) But she really enjoyed this concert and was impressed by the skill of the dancers. Again, I turn to the more expert Acocella to perhaps explain why:

"Morris has an obsession with candor. The body seems to him the prime carrier of truth," she wrote last year, again for The New Yorker. "This accounts, in part, for the very strong feeling of intimacy you get from his work. He shows you the armpits, the inner thighs, the bumpy muscles in the back. At times he seems almost to embarrass his dancers, and therefore he puts us on their side."

Morris said he is now working on a new piece that will be danced to Handel’s "Acis and Galatea," in English, with an arrangement by Mozart. He said Krannert audiences will be among the first to see it.  Morris, whose company made its 13th annual visit this week to Krannert, will return to the center next year, but "Acis and Galatea" won’t be part of that program, one Krannert staffer told me.

I noticed in the audience last night more than 20 cadets in uniform from the Lincoln’s Challenge Academy in Rantoul. It’s part of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program.

This and last year Krannert sent a couple of MMDG members to Lincoln’s Challenge to lead workshops; the cadets in turn attended the MMDG performances here. On my way out of the theater I asked the cadets whether they enjoyed the concert.

"We did, ma’am," one replied.


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