Sunday, September 23, 2007

Denizens of Democracy

reprinted with permission

Imagine tossing together hints of history, visual art and folk culture from the late 1700s. Next imagine cooking this mix down to a broth so refined that you can sense where the various parts came from, though you can no longer see their sources.

Then add dance of layered beauty, wit, and design. Finally, put the whole thing fluidly together with three piano works by Mozart.

The result is Mark Morris' dazzling "Mozart Dances," which had its West Coast premiere Thursday at Cal Performances in Berkeley and runs through Sunday.

Given a commission for an evening-long work to Mozart's music for the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York's Lincoln Center last fall, Morris looked for piano-saturated compositions that he could get his arms around. He chose early, not so early and late Mozart. He then assembled a landscape of movements that returned in new guises throughout the night, everything from simple walks, runs, strident marching, and chasing steps to liquidy falls and circles of seemingly endless variation.

Within this deceptively simple format, Morris takes us on a voyage that coils inward to a jewel-like center and out again. Opening with "Eleven" (Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major), the first section is introduced by men who vanish and leave the stage to black-clad women (costumes by Martin Pakledinaz) in a domain overseen by long-time Morris company member Lauren Grant. Shimmering with authority, the pixielike dancer darts in and out of the action, leading the ensemble like an incarnation of Liberty herself, her dancing a marvel of crystalline timing and fearless intelligence.

Miraculously for an art form bound by time, the center section, "Double" is the place from which everything, ultimately, seems to radiate. Set to the Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, it is a segment full of mirroring, designed for the men and led by longtime company member Joe Bowie. (Bare-chested and dressed in waistcoat and shorts, he looks like a latter day Lord Nelson.)

Morris fills the scene with allusions to sailoring, friendship and love. Here, British artist Howard Hodgkin's evocative backdrop of outsided brushstrokes is initially lit by warm red tones.

Then, the music shifts, and, with Garrick Ohlsson and Yoko Nozaki on pianos and Jane Glover conducting the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, so does the climate. Death comes lurking, and when fine-boned Noah Vinson breeches the circling men, sorrows follow. A ghostly crew of women ensues, encircling Vinson, and together they seem joined in an exquisite netherworld.

Morris, not content to leave his actors to their sorrows, allows hope and beauty to wash over the actions. We see it in the delicacy of the gestures, and it emerges in the backdrop in emerald hues -- the green of renewal.

Glory spreads in part three, "Twenty Seven" (Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major). The company is vividly decked in white and set against a modernist red and black version of the backdrop. They form a band of citizens, who parade and shimmer in parallel lines, striding easily, with a liberty of their own. Morris, the humanist, is triumphant.

reprinted with the permission of Contra Costa Times

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bewegung: Movement, move (of: in motion) is a change of a position and/or a place or a situation, an object or subject sets compared with a reference system.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gus Solomons

The extraordinary choreographer, dancer, writer and architect Gus Solomons Jr will be in brief residence at Mills College next month as part of a tour sponsored by the Phi Beta Kappa Society's Visiting Scholar's Program. During his stay he'll offer a public lecture he calls “50 Million Ways to Make a Dance” and will discuss the evolution of his choreography over his 40-year career. The event takes place at Danforth Hall on the campus Thursday, October 4, at 5:15 pm and is free and open to all.

The Boston-raised Solomons took up dance at the Boston Conservatory of Music while at MIT studying architecture, working with Jan Veen in Laban technique and Robert Cohan in Graham. After getting his architecture degree, he moved to New York to dance. He launched his career with Donald McKayle, Pearl Lang, Joyce Trisler and Paul Sansardo then danced with Graham for a season. Soon he pressed on into the kind of late modernist terrain that would come to define his work. He spent from 1964-68 with the Cunningham company, during which time he originated roles in "Winterbranch" and "Rainforest." In 1971 he formed his own troupe, the Solomons Company/Dance, to explore dance as "melted architecture," linking his love of puzzles and design to forms that he has called "kinetic autobiography," according to historian Thomas DeFrantz. In 2000 he was awarded a "Bessie" for sustained achievement in choreography.

On a side note, Phi Beta Kappa is that society for select brainiacs who display excellence across disciplines and open-minded curiosity. It was started at the venerable College of William & Mary in 1776 (16 signers of the Declaration of Independence attended, and George Washington got his surveyors certificate there). The Greek initials Phi Φ(F) Beta (B ) and Kappa (K) - represent the motto "Love of learning is the guide of life" (philosophia biou kubernetes).

On another and architecturally pertinent note, the small case Phi, φ, represents the Golden Mean in math--1.618--drawn from the ratio of 1 plus the square root of 5 over 2 and defines the harmonious division of a line as understood by the ancient Greeks. Many architects live by its elegant proportions.

Sirius Consequences

The dog days of August that scorched New York and ignited fires in the West have passed. I've noticed this last week that the light has begun to look bruised late in the afternoon and the air is starting to chill, like an old woman's hands. Harvest time. The squirrels are eating anything resembling fruit and stashing nuts in flower pots. I can smell the tangy rot of apples. In the yard, the petals of white dinner plate dahlias are mashed on the ground.

Other smells--the scent of sorrow in the body politic mixed with an ugly stink of predation. I've watched public cheating and stealing being tossed off as a kind of game by people who have no need to cheat or steal. Much of the social contract is broken. And beneath that rot I detect an odor of abiding fear. The economy is held aloft by churning debt, and soldiers are returning from an infernal occupation looking more gruesome than anything Mary Shelley imagined for her Monster. We're living in an age of hucksterism bolstered by inquisitorial zeal.

Red or blue, it isn't what most of us signed up for.

This next year things are going to rock and roll. An election is coming. Remember the last two?

The good news, if you believe in signs and portents, is that the Muslim and Jewish new years, Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah, both began yesterday. A new synchronized beginning....I can dream can't I?

L'shanah tovah.

Kullu Sana wa Antum bi-Khayr.

The top of the dance season is also here. This week Jo Kreiter's Flyaway Productions takes on war and propaganda in her latest piece, "Lies You Can Dance To." Next week Mark Morris' deceptively formal Mozart Dances makes its premiere in Berkeley. Morris, whom pianist Emanuel Ax suggested could have been a conductor had he not been a dancer, has crafted a night packed with piano music--a tryptich of 2 concertos and one sonata with three sections each.

Cal Performances then launches into a Twylathon, beginning with the Joffrey Ballet performing Deuce Coupe.

Lines Ballet's 25th anniversary season begins November 2 with the inimitable Zakhir Hussain, the genius of tabla, and Philharmonia Chamber Players.

Music is dance's main squeeze this season; Politics is its shadow.