Compared to the rest of the year in New York, August’s dance schedule is slender. But you wouldn’t know that last week, as both Paul Taylor Dance Company and Mark Morris Dance Group invaded Lincoln Center—the first outdoors, in the Damrosch Bandshell, free; the second in the cooler confines of the David H. Koch “I still call it the State” Theater next door. Both were major, rare, reasons to celebrate being in this pizza oven of a city in an inferno of a summer.
MMDG is organically, and deservedly, becoming a highlight in the annual Mostly Mozart Festival. Morris is dedicated to using live music, and he regularly taps music from Mozart’s era and earlier. The program led off with a familiar Handel overture, a calming transition from exiting the bustling plaza to the rising curtain of Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. (I only wish the posh new orchestra elevator had been deployed.) Jane Glover conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, joined later by soloists Christine Brandes, Lisa Saffer, John McVeigh, and Andrew Foster-Williams.
It had been a few years since I’ve seen L’Allegro, so it was interesting to note what had remained etched in my mind. Most prominently, there is the overwhelming beauty and harmony of all of the production’s elements—the dance, of course, but the flattering multi-hued costumes by Christine Van Loon that shift from autumnal to spring tones; the melodic music, a treat to hear live; and the ingenious, seemingly simple, aperture-like set by Adrianne Lobel. Horizontal panels and scrims rise and fall, reducing or expanding the space, and are lit by James Ingalls in clear, brilliant colors—so emotionally evocative in the way that only color and music can be, beyond words.
The choreography, from 1988, is almost like a compendium of Morris’ work. You’ll find his appealing, unfussy basic movement, balletic twists, humor cheap and refined, allegory, folk dance, satisfying geometries, and thrilling daredevil passages. It’s straightforward, complex, heartfelt, whimsical—a self-contained world of dance in an operatic structure. Certainly a top contender for the “if you were stranded on a desert island and could bring only one dance with you…,” contest.
On Thursday, coincident with MMDG’s opening night, PTDC and Taylor 2 performed outside, in celebration of Taylor’s 80th. While L’Allegro felt like big art, the Taylor evening was more like a sprawling family reunion, the more the merrier onstage and in the packed audience, in part to salute three departing company members. It was brave to have the junior company perform prior to the main company—they are all accomplished dancers, but members of PTDC dance with notably far more passion and amplitude. T2 performed the gnarly Three Epitaphs in front of the live band Asphalt Orchestra, which made the dancers difficult to see, plus Esplanade (another desert island contender). A highlight was seeing PTDC perform Syzygy outdoors, where its frenetic energy and electronic score (by Donald York) could dissipate properly, charging all the viewers and fireflies in attendance like so many batteries.
Image: L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Photo by Elaine Mayson.