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    Behemoth in Mark Morris
    Photo by Stephanie Berger

    Mister Unexpected

    Mark Morris keeps finding ways to surprise at BAM


    Music, please. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was the opening piece, Behemoth. Having only ever seen Morris play skillfully with music, this silent piece with elements of Merce Cunningham minimalism is difficult to watch. Tiny mirrored badges each dancer wears StarTrek-like near their heart send bits of light around the theater like laser pointers, adding at least one element of initial mystery. Periodic blackouts give the flu-season audience time to cough and sneeze and hack, but the lit parts do little to ease their tension. Dancers spend much of the piece on the floor, with individuals doing occasional jeté passes or standing alone and raising a leg sideways quite slowly to flex a foot at the last moment. Nothing seems to connect until the final segment, when groups of three or more take turns making rhythmic patterns on the floor while standing or lying. The sense of relief that even this barest form of music gives is striking.

    Choreography by: Mark Morris.
    Dancers: Craig Biesecker, Samuel Black, Joe Bowie, Elisa Clark, Rita Donahue, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Lauren Grant, John Heginbotham, David Leventhal, Laurel Lynch, Bradon McDonald, Dallas McMurray, Amber Star Merkens, Maile Okamura, Noah Vinson, Jenn Weddel, Julie Worden, Michelle Yard.
    Music by: Kyle Gann.
    Costumes by: Elizabeth Kurtzman, Isaac Mizrahi, Martin Pakledinaz, Katherine M. Patterson, Susan Ruddie.
    Lighting design by: Michael Chybowski.
    Costume design: Christine Van Loon.
    February 23, 25-27, 2010

    Looky is a nice antidote to any silence hangover, full of whimsy and humor, and music. A moment of silence as the piece begins and a piano sits unattended has extra tension after the preceding piece, but the tension is quickly broken as the piano begins to play itself, the first of many comic musical and movement surprises in the piece. So many elements work well in this piece. Every costume is unique, and they run the gamut from formal to slouchy, jazz to ballet, suits to leotards, and yet a subtle black and white palette holds them together; not surprisingly, six designers are credited with costume design. Music by Kyle Gann, "Studies for Disklavier," is similarly disparate but somehow similar, and the automated piano allows some really crazy notespeed in "Despotic Waltz" and ocasionally elsewhere. The piece plays mostly as a large party or social gathering. Groups form and unform, would-be leaders exhort and disintegrate, and motifs of movement come and go, often among subgroups of the whole, occasionally threatening to unify the whole group but never quite achieving that. Only in an odd gallery-of-mannequins section toward the end is almost the entire group doing the same thing, which ends when the display people descend on a pajama-clad trespasser. Throughout, the interaction of movement and music is subtle, organic and fleeting, really interesting to watch, and humor lurks, ready to startle.

    A new piece, Socrates, plays with the story of Socrates and his imprisonment and death by poison, to music by Erik Satie, sung live in French by Jean-Paul Fouchécourt. It is immediately beautiful and soft, even as slave or prisoner pairs bound together dance with strong movement. The overhead translation titles are difficult to stay with while watching the dancing, but are critical for anyone nonfluent in French. Large but minimal staging elements keep the look simple, like the black background curtain covering half a backlit scrim that rises before "On the banks of the Ilissus" to create a river. This is a beautiful, dreamlike piece with no sharp edges, and it is easy to be lulled too far if one loses concentration. The ending is equally as striking as the beginning, with poisongivers in unison stroking dying Socrates' legs and then all subtly becoming the dying man seeping into limbo.

    MARCH 1, 2010

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