Mark Morris Dance Group and Music Ensemble returns to Philadelphia after 14 years with Dances to American Music, a program featuring works from American composers. Performing choreography from the early to mid 1990s, the company reintroduces their signature aesthetic with a pleasant evening of dancing.
The ballet, Pacific, opens the program with a nature-infused aesthetic that adheres well to its title. Clothed in gradients of blue, green, and orange, the dancers maintain a soft movement quality. The piece mimics the ocean as it lulls the viewers to become lost in its waves of sameness. The formations, amount of dancers, and background colors change but the prevailing texture of the movement does not. Similar to the other works of the night, it is easy on the eyes.
The show’s second piece, Mosaic and United, offers contrast from the balletic style but not from the precise flow of formations and strict compliance to the music. This dance evokes a trembling quietness. It is humble, energetic, and at times, eerie. The dancers build structures that explore proximity and distance, often playing with the differences between the group and the individual. Though it is slightly drawn out in length, this piece creates sweet breaks in the seriousness of the program.
Following an intermission, Three Preludes features dancer Laurel Lynch in a solo performance accompanied by pianist Colin Fowler. This gentle, jazzy piece continues to follow the company’s zest for clean, precise dancing but with a more relaxed feel. The single dancer allows the audience to experience Morris’s aesthetic without group formations, and for the first time the piece interacts with the music more than it is explicitly directed by it.
Grand Duo closes the program with fourteen dancers on the stage at once, a notable difference from the previous works. It is here that the abilities of the company truly shine as they meticulously follow their spacing and calmly attack the clear-cut timing of the choreography. No one is ever out of place, and it is satisfying to experience the accuracy of this large group.
As a whole, this program is worth seeing for its tranquility, precision, and excellent use of live music. This is not the show to attend with the hope of surprise or shock. Mark Morris Dance Group is not disturbing or uncomfortable. Instead, this company presents works that are continuously pleasant to watch. This performance showcases polished dancing and does not burden the audience to digest it to its core.
[Annenberg Center Live, 3680 Walnut Street] February 9-10, 2018; annenbergcenter.org