Sunday, November 24, 2013

L'Allegro—Will there ever be another?

Spencer Ramirez, right. Photo: Kevin Yatarola
Can a dance like Mark Morris' L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato ever be made again? 

It seems unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future. In 1988, Morris was a young artist-in-residence at La Monnaie in Belgium when he made it. He was bursting with ideas, entrusted with the necessary resources including, most importantly, time, space, and dancers, but also musicians and production staff. It took the providential merging of talent and resources to allow L'Allegro's creation. It might even have helped that Morris was not welcomed warmly in Belgium during his three-year stint, persuading him to focus on his work. 

There are still companies in residence at opera and theater houses in Europe, where it's possible to develop full-length, opera house scale work. Ex-pat William Forsythe, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, and Sasha Waltz have attained such positions, and places such as Sadler's Wells (London) offer strong support. But who knows when another American-based choreographer with Morris' potential will be given the keys to the castle? Even if the talent exists in the US, which it certainly must, the way choreographers make it here (if they do) is full of obstacles. The ones that have survived long enough to decide to make it an occupation receive very little support, both financially and institutionally. It's a tired old story with no happy ending in sight. 

Notes on the Nov 21 performance at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center's White Light Festival:

Photo: Kevin Yatarola
  • The choice of music was mad ambition and pure inspiration; the libretto's varying moods guide the dance's dynamics
  • Morris' dance invention—about 100 minutes worth—remains fresh after repeated viewings of L'Allegro (separated by a number of years), which made its US premiere at BAM in 1990. 
  • His grounded dancers seem to be inflated with helium in leaps and relevés. 
  • Slaps to the face become yet another step; such humorous scenes also serve to break up the sheer beauty of the dance.
  • Example: the picture above, when lifted dancers look like they're flying. The lifters repeat the movement without their cargo, to brilliant and emotional effect.
  • He manages and arranges traffic superbly. Rounds, lines, Greek keys, looping arcs. And always entrances and exits.
  • In one lovely scene, two dancers mirror movements, separated by a scrim. Streams of dancers walk, pulsing to the beat, one hand parallel to the ground leading the way, like water flowing over a rock.
  • His depictions of nature delight—dancers become trees, shrubs, dogs, horses. 
  • His no-nonsense ways of moving people and how they relate to one another have both broad appeal and ingenuity. 
  • Grace is in the details and humor. 
  • Performances by Sam Black, Maile Okamura, Dallas McMurray, Michelle Yard, Noah Vinson, and Spencer Ramirez particularly resonate.
  • Handel's ebullient music, with libretto by Charles Jennens and James Harris after poems by Milton, was performed by the MMDG Music Ensemble, conducted with crystalline clarity by Nicholas McGegan, with lovely solos by Dominique Labelle, Yulia Van Doren, John McVeigh and Douglas Williams. Musicians performed in the pit, while the entire stage is occupied by the dance.
  • The set design, by Adrianne Lobel, uses horizontal and vertical panels that expand or contract the space in countless ways. Graphic elements suggest urbanity.
  • James Ingalls' aromatic lighting augments each scene's mood.
  • The graceful costumes, by Christine van Loon, shift from mineral to floral hues between the first and second acts.
As the years pass and few dances match L'Allegro's achievements, and we see that even remounting it takes great resources, it's all the more important to appreciate it when it comes around, as we were able to this past week.

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