It’s a known, anecdotal, unscientific fact, that Mark Morris fans will follow the Mark Morris Dance Group anywhere; the Dead Heads of the dance world.
How else could he have made such a success in Brooklyn, where the group is headquartered and has an annual season? Many years ago I played hooky from a work-related responsibility, and trekked to UC Riverside to catch the company and Morris, who was still performing. (And that’s all I’ll say about my transgression.)
So there was a big crowd of folks who, I’ll bet, were making their first trips to Northridge because the MMDG was at CSUN’s Valley Performing Arts Center Saturday night (April 27). It was a tremendous program, spanning 30 years of Morris’ choreographic output, and the dancing and live musical accompaniment (violinist Georgy Valtchev, pianist Colin Fowler and Julia MacLaine on cello) were near flawless. With the exceptions of familiar faces such as Lauren Grant, Maile Okamura, Noah Vinson and Michelle Yard, there were many unfamiliar faces among the dancers. Unlike other companies, however, Morris maintains clear and consistent artistic control, and the group’s style remains recognizably his — unique and undiluted.
In “Canonic 3/4 Studies” (1982), Morris is playing with dancing in three-quarter time. Each was a mini-exercise, flirty ballet steps contrasted with big galumphing strides, and wide-stance plies. The nine men and women were dressed like boy ballet students — white short-sleeve T-shirts tucked into black tights. Inside dance jokes abound: an uncomplaining partner waits for two women to leap back and forth in front of him, and he catches them with flawless timing, a sweet smile on his face.
“Festival Dance” (2011) is, at least partly, a couples’ dance, an exuberant celebration of love and community to a piano trio by Johann Hummel. Morris paints delicately with a palette of romantic and whimsical partnering. But the stage churns, too, with weaving chains of Morris’ intricate folk dances.
After intermission, the mood shifted entirely thanks to “Grand Duo” (1993), one of several pieces Morris has made to the music of the late experimental musician Lou Harrison. Here, Morris suggests the community is a tribe, communicating with hieroglyphic gestures. Two groups “threw” invective at one another in time to the piano’s chaotic chords. I had forgotten Morris’ fantastic range, his wild imagination. “Grand Duo” was the thrilling reminder.