On Feb. 27, the Mark Morris Dance Group came to the UNCG Auditorium as part of the University’s Concert and Lecture Series this year. The group’s concert was comprised of three works from the company’s repertoire: “Dancing Honeymoon,” “Numerator” and “The Trout.” Each piece was accompanied by the Mark Morris Dance Group Musical Ensemble. The first work of the night, “Dancing Honeymoon,” blasted open a door that is too commonly left untouched by many choreographers who set out to solely present “serious” and “impactful” work – it exuberantly allowed the joy of dancing (or at least the appearance of it) back onto the concert stage.
Artfully pantomiming their way through a medley of 15 songs in just 18 minutes, the seven dancers whirled about the stage from storyline to storyline, harmonious with the vocal accompaniment of Mark Morris himself, who was performing from the orchestra pit below them. The song selection featured a variety of hits from the ‘20s and ‘30s, and the movements were reminiscent of that time. It was the kind of work that escorted the audience into a different world for a short while, allowing them to unashamedly enjoy their time there.
The piece was punctuated by acute lightheartedness and musicality, whimsical romanticism and the vibrancy of the color yellow. I felt as if I was transported inside an old photo of beach comradery set in the sixties or seventies. There was an ease about the piece, as though the air surrounding the piece was altogether simple. These notions were carried out primarily through accentuation of rhythm and smooth lyricism in the movement- it was as if the dancers themselves were physically singing the songs by embodying the music so completely.
The movement in the piece also created a definite narrative that so decisively portrayed the lyrics of each song that Morris would sing. All of these aspects collectively created a piece that was genuinely joyous to watch, and they portrayed a narrative that was easy to follow as an audience member.
Visually, the make-up of the piece was a delight. Backlit by a bright yellow scrim and donning various retro yellow costumes, dancers were nearly incapable of depicting a grim rendering, simply because of the immensely light atmosphere. Additionally, the dancers were acting just as much as they were dancing. Their facial expressions were as integral to the work as their pointed feet, fanciful lifts and lofty leaps.
Dancers could be seen talking to each other, falling in love, bringing their mothers on first dates and canoeing down a river- per lyrical instruction. We, as the audience, were invited into all of these interactions via inclusive focus and facial enthusiasm. It was as if the dancers were letting us in on a secret, but one that they mischievously cared to share.
Between each song, the lights would dim to cast the dancers in stark silhouette against the yellow background as props- three chairs- and dancers were reset to allow a new story to begin with the next song. It is obvious that the songs were deliberately chosen for their witty plot, and the movement that went with each new number was extremely literal. “Fly again” came with a Superman-esque lift and “And her mother came too” prompted the construction of a makeshift car from 2 chairs to house the disgruntled but still smitten couple being tailed by an uninvited mother.
The movement bordered on pantomime at moments because of the extent to which the lyrics were taken literally in their translation. There were moments of humor, moments of trivial strife, moments of romance and moments of pure joy because of the stories being told by the movement-to-music relationship. One could not exist without the other, and this is certainly not a work in which the music could be switched and the integrity of the choreography and intent remain the same.
The musicality of the movement is what gave the piece a feel that bordered on musical theatre, and it was one of the aspects that I enjoyed the most. In musical theatre performances, you are never unsure of the plot line or of the characters’ feelings and thoughts, because it is explicitly narrated for you. The nature of this choreography allowed me the same informative courtesy. It was a dance that I could understand without analyzing to death, and I really appreciated it for how integral each aspect of the work was to the next. If I could not have heard the music, I am confident that I still could have understood the music because of the intentionality and specificity of each movement in alignment with sound. If I could not have heard the lyrics, I am confident that I could still have guessed the plot line for each new song.
We have come to an odd period in choreography in which an unspoken taboo has been placed on work that is simply happy. It seems that joy has been traded for a more “respectable” serious nature, in which the art will be more valid- but who died and left solemnity the only rights to the dancing throne? The presence of visual delight does not have to insinuate the absence of intellect or deeper meaning. On the contrary, that degree of audience engagement prompted by the piece’s innate accessibility and reflective nature on human joy is something that any audience member can undoubtedly latch onto. Every movement only adds more depth and complexity to the work.
“Dancing Honeymoon” brought the UNCG Auditorium stage to relentless and unapologetic life as it validated the making of performance art that makes people smile more than they have to analyze. It assures the art-makers in attendance that an attainable plotline and evident musical cues will not in fact pose a threat to anyone’s choreographic future.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment