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Review: Mark Morris Dance Group's Mozart Dances
By Larry Jenkins
25th August 2008 - 09:57 am

The Mark Morris Dance Group's Mozart Dances with The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Pianists: Ursula Oppens, Amy Briggs Dissanayake. Conducted by Jane Glover.
Commissioned jointly by New York's Lincoln Centre, Vienna's New Crowned Hope, and London's Barbican, Mozart Dances is a product of choreographer Mark Morris's lifelong obsession with Mozart - and the commission comes partly because Manhattan's well-established Mostly Mozart Festival wanted it and Vienna, the composer's spiritual home, and London, a city that would've loved to be, all came to the party at the same time.

The work itself is a summation of all Morris's creative streams up til now – the now-established and largely unchanging vocabulary, the earmarked beauty and elegance, and the characteristic mirroring of the music's form and content in what the dancers do. In a recent interview on Radio New Zealand National, Mark Morris reiterated his credo: if one is setting dance to music, then that music should be reflected, not obliterated by what goes on onstage.

His dictum is that his dances be performed to the music played by live musicians, not taped ones, and to that end his dancers toured with internationally known conductor Jane Glover, long acknowledged as a Mozart scholar, and pianists Ursula Oppens and her protégé Amy Briggs Dissanayake. Glover's handling of the small orchestra drawn from the Auckland Philharmonia was revelatory, and the players responded to her guidance and expertise admirably. Oppens's playing of the piano concerti K413 in F and K595 in B-flat was not flawless by any means, but given the positioning in the pit and the distractions of having to accompany dancers as a rason d'etre, these were musical and notable performances. When teacher was joined by pupil for the famous two-piano sonata K 448, it was clear that both performers were having a whale of a time with this witty and delightful work.

So much for the music, now what about the dancing? As one would expect, the performances were polished and earmarked by that mysterious way Morris encourages his charges to ignore gravity. The dancing is sprung off the balls of the feet and the performers spend more time off the floor than on it. They are wonderful and beautiful to behold and one never hears a footfall, the only percussive sounds coming from the panels of the dancing surface rubbing together as the artists run, leap, cavort, circle and lift.

There were some remarkable solo performances, the first being Joe Bowie's agile and sensuous dancing in the second movement of K413; another was Lauren Grant's in the third movement of the selfsame concerto. Her husband David Leventhal acquitted himself well in several short solos, but it was Noah Vinson whose spiritual performance in the middle movement of the two-piano sonata that left the greatest impression for lyricism.

It was an evening of elegance and wit, recalling vividly the eighteenth century from which sprang the music of arguably the greatest of all composers, while remaining thoroughly grounded in the twenty-first.

Mark Morris Dance Group: Mozart Dances

Until 29 August at The Civic – bookings on the link below.

A video clip from a recent production of Mark Morris Dance Group's Mozart Dances in Canada is shown below.

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