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Mark Morris Dance Group Mesmerizes with Mix of Sacred and Profane

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The Mark Morris Dance Group made a long-awaited return to Miami in front of a spirited and chatty crowd. Not that the audience was distracted. There were frequent outbursts on the beauty of the performance. Like when dancer Michelle Yard, back turned toward the audience, squatted above her partner, who lay prone on the ground in All Fours, the woman behind me could not keep quiet. "Gorgeous!" she exclaimed.

That's exactly the word Mark Morris used to describe the three dances on the bill in an interview beforehand, and gorgeous the night turned out to be. And not that so-ugly-it's- gorgeous of so much contemporary dance. Taken together Festival Dance, All Fours, and V reveal the sheer classical beauty of Morris's mature choreography.

During pauses between the pieces, debates broke out among the spectators

on why this was or was not "ballet." Reasons why it's not,

would-be-classicists offered, were that "the women should be wearing toe

shoes" and "there's no libretto."

The reasons why some might think this

was ballet (besides the fact that Edward Villella was in the audience)

were obvious in every stunning extension, every lyrical leap, and in the

intricate patterns and canons performed in unfurling circles and lines

by the company of 14 dancers.

Festival Dance, set to Hummel's buoyant Piano Trio No. 5 in E Major,

threatened at times to be too, well, happy. But Morris cannily punctured

the mood before it grew cloying. He repeated established motifs -- such

as the women spinning in time to the music while their partners stood

still -- only in later rounds, the dancers abandoned the movement almost

as quickly as they executed it and walked off, slouching slightly, as

though it were all a lark.

Also in Festival Dance, Morris marked the

transitions between delirious line dances by having a series of couples

stand alone in a mournful embrace, the woman's head nestled in the nape

of the man's neck, a reminder of the need behind the sunniest smile.

This mixture of classical beauty with ordinary, everyday movement allows

Morris his majesty while appeasing jaded contemporary tastes. All

Fours, set to Bartok's dissonant String Quartet No. 4, was the darkest

piece of the evening with dancers crawling across the stage on hands and

knees for one entire movement and striking misshapen poses in a twisted

tableau in another.

These ponderous movements too were punctured by the

everyday, as the dancers occasionally broke from the most dramatic

poses to stop each other's mouths with their hands or to blow a kiss.

The transcendent flight of dancers across the stage in V alternated with

crashes and rolls on the floor. In one sequence, the dancers switched

lickety-split from elegant scissor-feet jumps to awkward, skittering

lunges. These days, Mark Morris is unabashedly beautiful. Just so we

don't take that for granted, he offers us moments of the mundane and the

ungainly too.

--Celeste Fraser Delgado, Artburstmiami.com

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