Queer Musicality

Fine new “Candleflowerdance” and “Cargo” from Mark Morris at BAM

“I’ve been called musical,” said Mark Morris in a BAM pre-show talk on March 22. “I think that’s secret code for homosexual.” Whatever the source of his aural touch, tonight’s program of four dances puts his reputation to the test. March marks MMDC’s 25 years and the choreographer reflects, “Everything I do is because of music.”

The odd, semi-improvisational “Cargo” hasn’t been seen in New York before. The 2005 dance is to the polytonal, jazzy “La Création du monde” by Darius Milhaud. The music is performed in the pit by the company ensemble—with extreme sensitivity and skill. Nicole Pearce’s lighting casts an orangey dawn glow.

Nine dancers in underwear enter hunched and intent, nose to the ground. Groups of three sit as if in small crafts with three upright bamboo poles evincing masts. They’re raised with interesting triangular formations of dancers. Held by a ring of dancers, the props form a large triangular hoop they jump into and out of. Lauren Grant hangs from her knees on a pole held over the shoulders of two males suggesting sacrifice. Hips waggle in a marching procession. Like a rite, it’s methodical but at the same time it’s lyrical and playful; there are phrases of natural chaos evincing a delightfully simple society that ends with the group prodding the couple in front, looking at them with disbelief, then running away.

A program note refers to cargo cults in the South Pacific. Colonized people, the have-nots, performed rituals imitating white people so that ancestral spirits would provide the valuable cargo they felt the whites had stolen from them. It works together with the primitive methodical creation story “in” the music. The sense of dance imitating behavior is surely a trademark of Morris’ work—like a postmodern concept of primitivism; the great moderns like Ruth St. Denis or Paul Taylor had theirs.

Grant and the other performers make a credible case for Morris’ dawn invocation that evinces the strength and failings of any society.

“Candleflowerdance” is also a New York premiere made last year. It is equal parts melancholy and play. A central square field is taped off and spotlighted and the six standing dancers push at the air above its perimeter or push hands with a partner. They fly out into the arms of a bystanding dancer, seemingly into a void since outside the square it’s dark. The lighting is by Nicole Pearce.

There’s a grand piano on the stage where Steven Beck plays Stravinsky’s “Serenade in A.” Morris’ solution to the musician-on-stage-scenario is ingenious. Ignore him! Splendidly, his presence is magnanimous both musically and visually without the dancers pretentiously leaning on the grand. The nimble cast avoids the devotional candles, almost too small to see, that sit in a line on either side of the central square stage-within-a-stage. It’s all part of the pictured coexistence of the here and the hereafter.

The memorial is dedicated to Susan Sontag. To end, sitting in a corner Charlton Boyd pushes up Rita Donahue who’s sitting in his lap. Her yellow shirt reiterates the triangular corner as she stands for a very brief moment of glory.

The dancers yawn and also gesture to the heavens in the beautifully complex “All Fours.” It’s like a mechanism of moving parts timed at different intervals to the five movements of Bartók’s “String Quartet No.4.” Insistent sustained violins inspire heavy up and down arms with clenched fists. The dancing expresses the music so inevitably, it’s almost predictable. To the second Pretissimo section, Craig Biesecker and Bradon McDonald’s duet is precise and extraordinary.

Finally, the hoedown “Going Away Party” is performed to twangy Hawaiian and Southwestern style songs by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys performed wonderfully by The Western Caravan. It’s altogether silly and hokey, but John Heginbotham and Julie Worden star with their contrasting seriousness, loose-limbed in matching fringed tops and russet colored pants or skirt.

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