City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Review: Mark Morris Dance Group, 7 Nov 2009

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 07 November 2009

Mark Morris Dance Group
Show Details
Mark Morris Dance Group
Mark Morris (choreography)
John Heginbothan, David Leventhal, Noah Vinson, Julie Worden, Michelle Yard, Bradon McDonald, Elisa Clark, Rita Donahue, Dominggo Estrada jr, Lesley Garrison, Lauren Grant, Maile Orkamura, Jenn Weddell, Craig Biesecker, Samuel Black. (dancers), Colin Fowler (piano), Emily Stevenston (mezzo soprano), Paul Honeyman (tenor), Jesse Blumberg (baritone), Gavin Easton (baritone), Donald McLeod (baritone), Georgy Valtchev (violin).
Running time: 

American dancer Mark Morris created his own dance company in 1980, for which he has choreographed over 120 works as well as numerous commissions from the finest ballet and opera companies in the world from Paris Opera to the Royal Ballet.  

His list of awards and honours is impeccable, including Laurence Olivier awards, several Edinburgh Festival International Critics awards, Scotsman/Hamada Trust Festival Prize and the American Dance Festival lifetime achievement award.  He has an immense loyal fan base in Edinburgh and they came out in force on Friday night at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, where he and his company have performed regularly over recent years.

There is an iconic passionate style to Mark Morris choreography complemented by a distinctive choice of music accompaniment, performed live by the MMDG ensemble. Last night we were therefore treated to this double whammy: spirited dancing and superb musical and vocal performances ranging from Bach to Gershwin.

The first of four works was the delightfully quirky Italian Concerto, a series of two duets and a solo dance with pianist Colin Fowler performing Bach’s Italian Concerto in F Major. The duets were bright (orange and red costumes) and breezy, with exaggerated moves and gestures like sign language. In contrast the solo male dancer (a role often performed by Morris himself), brought a quieter mood, slow steps, ending with a gentle hand on heart.  

In a change to "Excursions" in the published programme due to a dancer’s injury, we were treated to Three Preludes, a solo piece choreographed for Gershwin’s Preludes for Piano, (first performed by Gershwin himself at the Roosevelt Hotel, New York in 1926).  Brandon McDonald gave us a virtuoso, energetic and witty performance. With black clothing, white gloves and spat shoes, he danced across the stage with a soft shoe shuffle like a vaudeville showman, perfectly in tune with Gershwin’s signature tone of soft bluesy jazz. 

A musical time shift again to three songs by Franz Schubert for a charming work, Bedtime. As the curtain rises three girls in blue pyjamas are lying in a row, front stage, curled up as if sleeping in bed as Emily Steventon sings Wiegenlied, a lullaby, “Sleep, sleep, sleep more sweetly, sweet boy.”

Several dancers move quietly around them, a soft touch on the shoulder. Then Emily and a chorus of four men sing Standchen, a nocturnal serenade, as the ensemble dance seamlessly with perfect timing to the song.

Finally Schubert’s Erlkonig, based on a Goethe folktale about an Elf king only visible to a little boy: here the dancers jump, skip and play like children. A sensual, graceful performance in music, song and movement.

To end the show, a true masterpiece, Grand Duo, performed to Lou Harrison’s Grand Duo for violin and piano, (composed 1988), a stunning, electrifying work rich in rhythm, space, melody and lyricism.

It begins slowly in dark shadow, with the ensemble lying, crouching, as slowly each one raises an arm to catch the beam of a strong spotlight in their hand. The musical tone and tempo shifts up and down the gears over the 25 minute piece, as the dancers create neat lines and shapes, twirl and whirl in ever decreasing circles like a tribal ritual.

Visually and musically, this is breathtaking, mesmerising, exhilarating. An evening of pure Morris dancing magic.  

Mark Morris Dance Group was at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre 6th and 7th November, 2009. Part of UK tour, continuing to Cardiff, Newcastle, and Snape Malting