23 April 2010

L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato by Mark Morris

If there's a weakness in my cultural life it's that there is not enough dance in it.

The theatre features most months and opera gets a healthy does every Summer at Glyndebourne but dance flits in and out only once a year or so.

But when it does flit in it does so with panache, exuberance and passion. Just as it did at The Coliseum for Mark Morris' L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.

The Coliseum is not my favourite venue, mainly because the auditorium is cramped and old fashioned, but it has its good points and the newish extension is one of them. Not only does it make more communal (bar!) space but it also provides views of the old part of the building and across Trafalgar Square.

The setting for the dance was a simple white stage with multiple openings at the sides to allow the dances to enter and exit from multiple points to make complex and entrancing patterns.

The only effects or props used where some coloured screens and veils that dropped at times to divide the stage and give a ghostly appearance to the dancers at the back.

The music was simple baroque, including Handel's pastoral ode set to the poetry of John Milton, and while it was pleasant verging on gorgeous it's main role was to provide the subtly landscape for the dance and to be almost unnoticed itself.

The dancing was sumptuous producing mesmerizing and almost chaotic patterns in the individual figures, couples, small groups and full ensemble; and often in many of these at the same time.

One enchanting scene had all the dancers making Busby Berkleyesque shapes as they paraded around the stage, but the normal pattern was for each dancer to be slightly off-step with the others, sort of dancing apart together.

This simple technique was very effective as when all the dancers are doing the same thing at the same time then you only need to look at one of them (or all of them as one whole) to see what is going on but if they are all doing different things then there is a lot more to see and savour and you have to try and look everywhere at the same time to catch the richness of the moment.

My favourite scene had three lines of dancers moving slowly across the stage, as if on parallel conveyor belts, with translucent screens between them. These lines stopped frequently freezing all of the dancers briefly in exotic poses before they restarted their journeys in unison. Here the simplicity of the parallel lines combined wonderfully with the individual moves of each dancer to produce an compelling tableau that I could have watched for ages.

Scholars will have noticed that the new dance stories that I have included here over the last 3 to 4 years have featured choreography by Matthew Bourne or Mark Morris and while they are undoubted masters of their art there is other great dance out there. So, not only do I need to see more dance, I also need to see more variety. That sounds like a plan.

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