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Saturday, April 30, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

Dance Review

Dance program contains passion and poetry

Special to The Seattle Times

Enlarge this photoSTEPHANIE BERGER

Members of the Mark Morris Dance Group performing "Violet Cavern" in New York in 2004. The group is at Meany Theater tonight.

Mark Morris' 2004 "Violet Cavern" feels overlong and sometimes disjointed, but it contains some moments as beautiful as anything he's yet created. Paired with the lovely 1993 "Mosaic and United," the Mark Morris Dance Group's program on Thursday night's opening was both monumental and exhilarating.

The 50-minute "Cavern" was made up of seven movements for 15 dancers accompanied by a jazz trio, The Bad Plus. Stephen Hendee's design consisted of a frieze of white rectangles covered with black lines that suggested the joints of atrium glass. They floated above a reflecting stage and changed color in Michael Chybowski's intense lighting. Repeatedly throughout "Cavern" Morris had the dancers moving horizontally on the stage floor.

Costumed in Elizabeth Kurtzman's athletic street clothes, they rolled, contracted their chests and legs, collapsed from a standing position or crawled, head down. These supine sections quickly began to be tiresome, especially when they interrupted the flow of gestural and rhythmic patterns that transpired whenever Morris got his wonderful dancers back on their feet. A particularly striking grouping was that of a walking dancer pulled by two others who slid forward on their backs, their propelling feet and knees creating a rippling wake behind her. Dancers progressed in repeated diagonals, slapping at the outstretched hands of their partners, and turned to salute the audience in a series of exits.

Now playing

Mark Morris Dance Group, reviewed Thursday night, Meany Theater, University of Washington, Seattle. Repeats at 8 tonight; $43 (206-543-4880 or Ticketmaster outlets).

Now, here is the kind of literal interpretation Morris tends to vehemently reject when made about his work, but once I saw it, I couldn't shake it: Could "Violet Cavern" be about New York and 9/11? The big-city jazz score, the insistent presence of two black rectangular shadows in the middle of the stage around which the dancers grouped, the frenetic crowds who sometimes stopped to stare upward, the mourning pieta positions, the way a dancer would melt straight downward out of another's encircling arm as if turning into dust, the falling to the floor of one person after another, and a final image of a stage full of collapsed dancers, except for two still standing and whirling, all kept bringing forward that question.

Morris usually works from music, but in this case he commissioned The Bad Plus to build the score around some of his already created movement. The resulting roughness had a certain power of its own. Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass and percussionist David King drew both dark abstract sound and bright cheery melody from their amplified instruments.

"Mosaic and United" (last seen at Meany four years ago) was set to two quartets by Henry Cowell played by violinists Yosuke Kawasaki and Jesse Mills, cellist Wolfram Koessel, and violist Jessica Troy. Five dancers dressed in Isaac Mizrahi's colorful floaty silk shirts and pants walked the perimeter of the stage, making surprise stealth exits and entrances. They used their bent back hands and crossed heels in ways that sometimes suggested Thai folk dance. They lined up and swung their arms like pendulums. They varied their rhythms in complicated ways, whether moving backward or forward, and finally left the stage with a little bow off to the right. Performing these always surprising and delightful movements were Craig Biesecker, Marjorie Folkman, John Heginbotham, Gregory Nuber and Julie Worden.

Mary Murfin Bayley: marybayley@aol.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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