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Mark Morris Dance Group.

Mark Morris Dance Group Zellerbach Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA September 22-October 1, 2005

The Mark Morris Dance Group's annual sojourn at Cal Performances, now 11 years old, yielded a modest charmer this season. Candleflowerdance, a sextet set to Stravinsky's "ultra-see" Serenade in A, confirms what Morris aficionados know only too well: Piquant dances often come in small packages.

Granted this intimate, 13-minute diversion looked a bit swamped on the Zellerbach stage, appropriately festooned with the eponymous candles and flowers. But Morris' intense absorption in Stravinsky's compressed, jazz-flecked neoclassicism, rendered incisively by onstage pianist Steven Beck, generates a sequence of playful geometry in which clarity of gesture, group stretches, and cradled elbows revel in physical inevitability. Walks morph into leaps, the fluid patterns congeal into squares, the sextet draws itself into a crucifix formation. Still, the choreography leavens the process with sudden ruptures in the pristine order. Charlton Boyd somersaults. Julie Worden slips and is helped up. Lauren Grant meets Craig Biesecker in a duet so casual you're not sure it will be there the next time around. Leonine-maned Bradon McDonald and Rita Donahue, a recent MMDG recruit with a witty, volatile stage manner, completed the premiere cast. Candleflowerdance, which Morris dedicated to the late Susan Sontag, knows its limits and never transgresses. Only skeptics dare call it minor.

The West Coast premiere of Cargo (introduced at the Tanglewood Music Festival last June) is the latest in a substantial number of settings of Milhaud's La Creation du monde, written for Les Ballets Suedois in 1923. Nobody knows Jean Borlin's original choreography, which replicated a black African Genesis myth, but Morris has doubtless perused Fernand Leger's famous decor and Blaise Cendrars' libretto. They are referenced in this faux-primitive romp fashioned for nine dancers in briefs or skimpy bathing suits. The totem in this quasi-fable is a wooden pole, which, at one point, reproduces itself in triplicate. The stick metamorphoses as each small group encounters it. At one point the rod supports Grant, who is treated like a pig ready for roasting; then it impales Biesecker; later still, the dancers sequentially jump the pole. The moves favor hunched, simian loping. The women find tribal consciousness and melt into a separate society. But Morris seems drawn more to crafting fluid relationships than proposing sociological verities. He hears Milhaud's durable melding of tropical torpor and manic vitality as if it had been written for him. Cal Performances director Robert Cole conducted the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra with remarkable elan. See www.mmdg.org.
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Author:Ulrich, Allan
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Words:419
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