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Dance Review

‘Mozart Dances’ captures music’s playfulness

“Mozart Dances’’ is a three-part work set to piano concerti and a sonata by Mozart, performed by pianists and the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music. “Mozart Dances’’ is a three-part work set to piano concerti and a sonata by Mozart, performed by pianists and the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music. (Stephanie Berger for The Boston Globe)
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / January 30, 2010

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One of the greatest pleasures of any concert by the Mark Morris Dance Group is the live music that ignites the dance. “Mozart Dances,’’ given its Boston premiere last night in the troupe’s Celebrity Series engagement, offers a veritable feast. Morris’s three-part dance work is set to piano concerti and a sonata by Mozart, all given fine performances by pianists Russell Sherman and Minsoo Sohn with the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music under conductor Jane Glover.

It was a perfectly lovely, if slightly underwhelming evening, in which Morris beautifully captured the formal clarity and gentle playfulness of Mozart’s music without adding too much edge or invention. The opening “Eleven,’’ set to the Piano Concerto No. 11, features some of Morris’s most elegantly classical, restrained choreography. The dancers’ lyrical swoops, spins, and long extensions ride atop an airy gracefulness in the score, little hop steps mimicking the three upbeats to the musical phrase. Occasionally, sharp angles and long, slicing limbs punctuate the flow, but it’s all very gracious and pleasant.

The rousing “Double,’’ set to the Piano Sonata in D Major for two pianos, digs in more effectively. As Mozart pulled out his more robust writing, Morris called on his folk dance chops for a joyous men’s dance led by Joe Bowie, who, in a long morning coat, set the stage with vivid face-to-the sky spins and reaches interrupted by dramatic pauses. Then, with hands joined, six men in peasant shirts and knee breeches wove circles and spirals, their patterns periodically bursting apart into split leaps and barrel turns. They gave gestures recalled from the concerto a raw urgency, adding syncopated, wide-legged stomping and good-natured prances, hands on hips or fingers pointed rakishly. It was so direct and cohesive that the late stage addition of the women seemed totally extraneous.

The final “Twenty-seven’’ pulled the evening together, spinning gestures and phrases from the previous two works into a full ensemble romp full of eye-catching patterns. Hands fluttered like feathers one moment, then punched and thrust another, sometimes a finger raised in a “wait a minute’’ warning. Tripping skips and fleet footwork added counterpoint to the music, and repeatedly dancers gracefully collapsed into gentle repose on the floor. But just as quickly, they were up and off, striding purposefully, arms swinging front and back, leavening the courtly gentility of Mozart’s music with pedestrian determination.

MARK MORRIS DANCE GROUP At: Boston Opera House, last night (through tomorrow)