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Susan Weinrebe
Performance Reviews
Harris Theatre for Music and Dance

Mark Morris Dance Group: L‚Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato

by Susan Weinrebe
August 27, 2005
Harris Theatre for Music and Dance
Millennium Park
205 E. Randolph Drive
Chicago, IL 60601

Mark Morris Dance Group: L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato

Mark Morris Dance Group
(Mark Morris Website)
(Ravinia Festival Debut)
(Ravinia Website)
L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
By George Frideric Handel

Pastoral ode after poems by John Milton
Rearranged by Charles Jennens

Mark Morris Dance Group
The Ruth Page Festival of Dance
L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato

Music of the Baroque
(Ravinia Festival Debut)
Nicholas McGegan, Conductor

The Harris Theater
Millennium Park
205 E. Randolph Dr.
Chicago, Illinois 60601
(Harris Theater Website)
Choreography: Mark Morris
Set Design: Adrianne Lobel
Costume Design: Christine Van Loon
Lighting Design: James F. Ingalls

Christine Brandes, Soprano
Dominique Labelle, Soprano
John McVeigh, Tenor
Philip Cutlip, Baritone

Craig Biesecker, Samuel Black, Joe Bowie, Charlton Boyd, Elisa Clark,
Amber Darragh, Rita Donahue, Nicholas Duran, Lorena Egan,
Marjorie Folkman, Emily Gayeski, Lauren Grant, John Heginbotham,
David Leventhal, Theresa Ling, Bradon McDonald, Gregory Nuber,
Maile Okamura, June Omura, Karen Reedy, Kevin Scarpin, Kanji Segawa, Utafumi Takemura, Noah Vinson, Aaron Walter, Seth Williams, Julie Worden, and Michelle Yard

Port, Washlow and Errant Families and The Boeing Company

Susan Weinrebe
August 27, 2005

Inextricably drawing from and interweaving a confluence of arts, Mark Morris's L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato, made a brilliant Chicago premiere at Millennium Park's Harris Theater, the evening's off-site venue for Ravinia. Inspired by Handel's eponymous choral ode and John Milton's lyrical and eponymous poems, not to mention watercolors by William Blake, Morris's masterwork was a cultural groaning table.

If we had the glorious score, but it were not played so evocatively by Music of the Baroque, it would have been enough. Had we the music, but not the accompanying soprano, tenor, and baritone vocalists performing the yearning pastoral ode, that would have been enough. Had we the music, the vocals and the delicious inventiveness of choreography, that would have been enough. Had we all this, and not the properly expansive stage to accommodate original sets, that would have been sufficient. All in all, Saturday night's performance was a plethora of aural, auditory, and visual delights to sate even the most ardent consumer of dance and music.

Performers in the Mark Morris Dance Group are an ensemble as far away from cookie cutter ranks of dancers, as Morris himself was, when his precocity refreshed the dance stage in the 80's. Paired in combinations of women grouped with women, men partnered with men, and every combination in between, they flowed about the stage in such seemingly endless variety that the lengthy production, over an hour and a quarter, flew by too quickly.

The pace of choreography, music and vocals quickened and slowed as the L'Allegro and Il Penseroso movements indicated. Progressions en masse brought the group to the center of the stage, then each corner, and then exiting and returning so rapidly that it was impossible to focus on the individual dancers. Instead, like the undulating rhythms of a school of fish, the performers seemed to become a single entity at times, and a soft eye focus helped to blend dancers into "one dancer".

"Haste thee nymph, and bring with thee/Jest and youthful jollity," express a great deal of the frolicsome nature of the choreography. These dancers were having fun and their play sallied forth to the audience, not only in the signature hand flips, faun arms, and head bobbles that are among the many music visualizations translating words into movement, but also in their facial expressiveness.

Male dancers, kissing, circling in a minuet, slapping rumps, then repeating, were a boys-will-be-boys vignette that amused the audience as were other gems of miming action. Game animals were pursued by a pack of dogs, dancers with well-padded knees, barely held in check by the hound master. A pair of birds cocked their little heads and postured and preened. Men leaped into the arms of women to be blissfully cradled to sleep by "whisp'ring winds." Mowers, milkmaids, plowmen, and shepherds, as well as nymphs and animals, filled the stage, and one would need several attendances to take in the general dance, much less the nuanced intricacies of movement, when the ensemble was brought together.

Filmy dresses and tunics in grayed down shades abetted the sense of ethereal beings dancing the lyrics, which the chorus sang. How I wish there could have been projected words to the songs, like super titles at the opera, though that would have been entirely too much to keep an eye on! The poetry being danced was barely, if at all, understandable. The singer's voices were superb, so I wonder if the acoustics of the Harris Theater prevented their enunciation from being the extra dimension of sung words, as intended.

Deceptively simple scrims provided backdrops that changed throughout L'Allegro'stwo parts. Panels with blocks of color, reminiscent of Piet Mondrian's rectangular presentations, rose and fell as they changed shade. Scrims were used to great effect, visually separating, then uniting dancers, enhancing mood through light and color.

A single dancer at stage rear mirrored another's movements at stage front, each motion an eye-blink behind the first, like an after image. Thus, the evocative screening quality of the scrim served to separate them as in a dream.

In the production's second part, costumes and backdrops glowed as though brightened by magical detergent and would not have been out of place in a Maxfield Parrish illustration. They were visually gladdening and a perfect example of the creative synergy at the heart of Mark Morris's vision.

And that happiness of heart was what the audience was left with at curtain call. Echoing the last line of the libretto, "Mirth, with thee we mean to live," for a little over an hour, that was exactly what we had done at Mark Morris's fabulous L'Allegro il Penseroso ed il Moderato.

Mark Morris Dance Group: L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
Photo courtesy of Ken Friedman

Mark Morris Dance Group: L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
Photo courtesy of Ken Friedman

Mark Morris Dance Group: L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
Photo courtesy of Ken Friedman

Mark Morris Dance Group: L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
Photo courtesy of Ken Friedman

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