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Mark Morris Dance Group's Acis and Galatea a Pastoral Delight

by Joanna G. Harris
April 25, 2014
Zellerbach Hall
Bancroft Way at Telegraph
(2430 Bancroft Ave.)
Berkeley, CA 94704
510.642.9988
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
In her time, Isadora Duncan choreographed opera, among them Gluck's "Orpheus and Eurydice" which included lovely pastoral dance in it. With Handel's Acis and Galatea, Mark Morris has evoked Duncan's spirit and style.

The world premiere opera featured the Mark Morris Dance Group accompanied by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale (Nicholas Mcgegan, Music Director) along with soprano Sherezade Panthaki(Galatea),tenor Thomas Cooley (Acis),tenor Zach Finkelstein (Damon)and bass-baritone Douglas Williams (Polyphemus).

The evening's best performances were by the company's dancers. Both men and women were dressed in flowing green print chiffon that set the image of the lovely fields from Greek myths.

As the dancers skipped, leaped, ran, turned and twisted through the type of lyrical steps Morris loves so well, the spirit of baroque pastoral was fulfilled. When the singers entered to tell the story, the spell was broken. The singers are badly costumed (in contrast to the dancers) and often they cannot be clearly heard. Designer Isaac Mizrahi has chosen costumes for the dancers well: the singers appear in contemporary street wear, albeit green, but hardly suggests shepherd imagery nor immortal goddess. The dancers lead the singers around a through the stage, to dramatize the love story, which the singers cannot quite fulfill. Douglas Williams as Polyphemus, is the strongest singer-actor since he provides the comic element for the love story. It is a simple one. Acis love Galatea: she is immortal, he is not. Damon sympathizes.
Polyphemus, jealous, kills Acis. Galatea turns Acis into a stream.

Morris' choreographic skill is most admirable as he designs geometric patters for the lines of dancers. For this reviewer, he is less admirable when he introduces gestural 'mime' elements, e.g. the dancers behave tyke sheep or goats or birds or pretend to eat. These actions illustrate the libretto which (although attributed to John Gay, Alexander Pope and John Hughes) needs no illustration. Bad gags.

Laurel Lynch gave an outstanding performance to Acis' aria determined to fight Polyphemus. It is a soldier-like dance repeated by two sets of men dancers to add to the courage Chelsea Lynn Acree and Aaron Loux were equally brilliant in first act duets. All the dancers deserve high praise. They are Sam Black Rita Donahue, Domingo Estrada, jg., Benjamin Freedman, Lesley Garrison, Lauren Grant, Aaron Loux, Stacy Martorana, Dallas McMurray, Maile Okamura, Brandon Randolph, Billy Smith, Noah Vinson, Jenn Waddel and Michelle Yard.

Morris has mastered the art of using important live music with dance. The Philharmonia Baroque performed with great skill as they usually do. Opera such as "Acis and Galatea" are rarely performed with such devotion and vitality. If only all the elements could be executed and integrated with the skill of the dancers and musicians, it could be taken entirely seriously. But Morris mocks the material within his work, the singers would do better to stand still and sing and let the music soar. Nevertheless, "Acis and Galatea" was a beautiful event: the audience howled with delight.
Mark Morris Dance Group

Mark Morris Dance Group

Photo © & courtesy of Susana Millman

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