Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Mark Morris at Zellerbach

HOW WAS THE MARK MORRIS, a friend e-mails, and another writes

I wasn't as convinced about the performance as you were, but am very glad to have seen it and it's fun to watch you swoon over the art you enjoy!

Well, "swoon" is perhaps an extravagant word, but I must say I was tremendously impressed with Cargo, the new piece Morris set to Darius Milhaud's La creation du monde. It began with a white pole lying diagonally on the otherwise bare floor of an empty set. The dancers crept in from the wings, tentatively approaching it and one another, and as Milhaud's magical score evolved so did they, balancing curiosity and timidity, discovering emotions and pleasures, playing with their stick and one another, inventing social hierarchies and disagreement. You felt you were watching the evolution of humanity from its animal source, and since that evolution stopped short of the discovery of conscious thought the spectacle was a delight.

All Fours, to the Bartok Fourth Quartet was the most abstract I've seen from him, still detailed and quite close to the musical argument, but intellectual, I thought, especially after the more primitive exploration of the Milhaud.

What had attracted us to the evening was the music, particularly the Stein-Thomson opera Four Saints in Three Acts -- I never miss a production of it if I can help it. Morris treated the opera as a pageant, with lyrical naive-art backdrops and costumes, and avoided overly detailed mime interpretation of the content of the opera (distinguishing this from, for example, his setting of L'Allegro ed il penseroso, which I delight in in spite of its fussiness).

The commere and compere were the soloists here, as they tend to be in the opera, with the two Saints Theresa collapsed into a third solo dancer, and it was a pleasure to find that the chorus represented not all those miscellaneous Saints brought into Stein's libretto, but Spanish villagers on a sunny plaza, perhaps in Avila, miming and worshipping and more than occasionally spoofing them.

What I like about Mark Morris is his combination of sentiment, energy, and intellect, all in the service of commentary (or, as Stein would say, "meditation") on his subject. And this program was so artful, beginning with the primal source of humanity, continuing through the human application of intelligence, ending with faith and humor.

The other thing I like about these Morris productions is: Live Music!

The Berkeley Symphony did a fine job of the Milhaud and the Thomson, and the Bartok Fourth was played as if it were the easiest thing in the world -- though one of the most beautiful and enlightening -- by four young musicians, I'm sorry I haven't the program at hand, seated audience right at the edge of the stage. Fabulous.

No comments: