Review: The sophisticated simplicity of a Mark Morris masterpiece

“L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato” by Mark Morris, a dance of demanding and exceptional art, speaks of the strength of the human c...


“L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato” by Mark Morris, a dance of demanding and exceptional art, speaks of the strength of the human condition in body and spirit. There is euphoria and sadness, stupidity and reflection, joy and melancholy. There’s also the way one feels watching “L’Allegro”: overwhelmed and overwhelmed, but somehow, also, at peace.

Morris was only 32 when he made “L’Allegro”. It was 1988, his young company was in residence at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, where he had replaced Maurice Béjart, a highly regarded choreographer of questionable taste. Morris, a rising star in New York, was met with hostility. What would your next decision be if a newspaper headline told you to go home? Morris has created a masterpiece.

On Thursday, “L’Allegro” returned to Brooklyn Academy of Music, where it had its US premiere in 1990, with the company’s excellent musical ensemble, conducted by Colin Fowler, and the Trinity Wall Street Choir with Downtown Voices. In New York, this two-act work was also performed at Lincoln Center; there he has more space to breathe. The academy, by comparison, is cramped, with problematic sight lines.

But “L’Allegro” is still “L’Allegro”, and in this iteration there were some new faces, as well as the welcome return of veterans, including Maile Okamura and Elisa Clark. Of its 24 performers, half were new to the production, including apprentice Taína Lyons, at 22 the youngest dancer in the Mark Morris Dance Group, who was a fleet foot and adorable.

The production – on Handel’s oratorio (1740) which is mainly inspired by Milton’s poems “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” – seems both prescient and strange. Now, with articulated singing bodies moving up and down the stage as if caught in sudden gusts of wind, there is the ominous backdrop of the present. This is the third year of a pandemic. The opening night took place a month after the day Russia invaded Ukraine. Isn’t there a phrase like “Where dark darkness spreads its jealous wings”, from “Allegro” take on a new and heartbreaking meaning?

At a time when melancholy can easily overshadow joy, Morris’ “L’Allegro” is more than an incandescent evening of music and dance. This is where art, and its reflection, conveys something about the action of living. It is hope.

In the work, the poems represent different states of mind: L’Allegro is a cheerful extrovert while Il Penseroso is a meditative introvert. Handel and Charles Jennens arranged the poems, adding “il Moderato”, written by Jennens, as a way to even out the mood. For his dance, Morris was also inspired by the watercolors of William Blake which illustrated Milton’s poems. With its colorful and changing panels by scenographer Adrianne Lobel; lighting by James F. Ingalls; and the fluid and Greek costumes of Christine Van Loon, “L’Allegro” does not only evoke the idea of ​​a moving picture, it East a.

Morris, repeating and layering gestures in a way that makes the stage a vision of sophisticated simplicity, glides his dancers in and out of stages that transform them into elements and species of the natural world – in one stage they are a dazzling flock of birds – as well as nymphs, gods, lovers and friends. There is the camaraderie of folk dancing; the lightness, the lightness of the ballet; and the rooted forms of modern dance. Playfully, the dancers run in place or, in a comedic male section, slap each other then stop for a cheek-to-cheek kiss.

The arms curve generously; the bodies lean and bend, stopping just before, it often seems, tipping to the side. There is audacity in the decorum. In a luminous walking dance, the cast becomes a chain by chaining one hand in the bend of an elbow while the other rests on the waist. Morris reconstructs an ancient world – that of manners and restraint – before our eyes.

In another section, Dallas McMurray transforms into a bird, jumping up and down with his legs tightly together as his arms float by his side, a vision of perpetual motion – so whimsical and yet so delicate. And Sarah Haarmann, in her ‘L’Allegro’ debut, was stunning from the moment she stepped onto the stage. She moves as if she were made of air.

In the “Sweet Bird” section, Haarmann, with floating feet and quivering fingers, was almost angelic as he glided through passages of choreography. Without rushing or blurring the gestures, she let fragments of movement trail behind her – through her limbs, her head, her neck – even when she was on the next step. She was effortless, almost like she was dreaming of dancing.

But so much was awe-inspiring: Mica Bernas and Karlie Budge holding hands for courage as they made their way past dancers posing as hounds; the grounded and unguarded force of Lesley Garrison; The sweet buoyancy of Brandon Randolph. In reality, “L’Allegro” is a group experience, not only among the dancers but also among the singers and the orchestra. They hold your ear and your eyes while creating harmony and connection. Their world and more importantly, the the world, good and bad, is brought to light frankly.

If at present the line separating art and life seems far too thick to be broken, “L’Allegro”, in which emotion lives in the rhythm and line of bodies, exists somewhere on a third plane. In Morris’ theatrical setting, we see elation and pain as well as community; but even more, we feel a community and with it, determination and power.

As “L’Allegro” continues to its magnificent finale, the dancers, holding hands and beaming grateful smiles, run across the stage in neat, orderly lines and stand out in the backstage lost in the rush of the moment. In the last seconds, they gather in the center of the stage and organize themselves into three concentric rotating circles. And then, suddenly, they stop. What just happened? In a word, everything.

Allegro, Penseroso and Moderato

Through Sunday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; bam.org

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