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Morris Classic L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato Charming but Repetitive

by Joanna G. Harris
March 12, 2016
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
Bringing the text of John Milton and the music of George Frederick Handel to the contemporary dance stage requires superb collaboration between artists and thoughtful contemplation of thematic material. Mark Morris Dance Group premiered L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato in 1988 and it has stood the test of time, as has the text and music. What is brought to the stage through the kinetic imagery though lyrically and spatially pleasing however, is often superficial and kitsch. This was both choreographer Mark Morris’ audience attraction to the work and his limitation.

The company reprised the work March 11-13, 2016 at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorus.

Handel composed the work over the period of January 19 - February 4, 1740, and the work premiered on February 27, 1740 at the Royal Theatre of Lincoln's Inn Fields. At the urging of one of Handel's librettists, Charles Jennens, Milton's two poems, "L'Allegro” and "il Penseroso," were arranged by James Harris, interleaving them to create dramatic tension between the personified characters of Milton's poems ("L'Allegro" or the "Joyful man" and "il Penseroso" or the "Contemplative man"). The first two movements consisted of this dramatic dialog between Milton's poems. In an attempt to unite the two poems into a singular "moral design," at Handel's request, Jennens added a new poem, "il Moderato," to create a third movement. Morris moved back and forth between the poems' moods concluding with “Mirth, with thee we mean to live.”

The twenty-four dancers were all brilliant in their skill, energy and expressiveness whether they portrayed hounds, birds, gods and goddesses, or constantly fulfilled the rhythms of the score. Outstanding were Sam Black who played hide and seek with his company members, Dallas McMurray who personified the bird imagery, Maile Okamora who performed a sweet solo in Part II, and curley-haired Lauen Grant whose presence was notable throughout.

When Morris was not giving the dancers small mimetic gestures that "mickey-moused" the text or music (too cute), he built long lyric lines and geometric patterns the dancers executed via endless triplets, walking, leaping and through flying lifts. His design scheme was wonderfully assisted by a series of scrims that dropped in front of and behind the dancers enabling mirror-action and depth of field. This devise allowed for echoing between dancers that enhanced numerous duets and trios. However, for this reviewer, the endless repetition of these devises, as well as the mock sexual suggestions (boys kissing, fighting and tripping the light-fantastic) grew wearisome. The audience however, was delighted to catch onto the jokes.

Somewhere in his long career, Morris must have studied or observed dance derived from Isadora Duncan. The women in their muted primary color dresses used those flowing gestures, skips, runs and leaps that characterize early modern dance. It was endlessly charming and satisfying as all twenty-four dancers wound through, around and across the stage in circles and lines…but it did go on and on.

The set design was by Adrianne Lobel, costumes by Christine Van Loon, and lighting Design by James F. Ingalis.

Philharmonia Baroque was conducted by Nicholas McGegan with Sherezade Panthaki, soprano, Yulia Van Doren, soprano, Thomas Coolsey, tenor and Doughlas Williams, baritone.

The brilliant dancers wre: Chelsea Acree, Sam Black, Durell R. Comedy,Rita Donahue, Domingo Estrada, Jr.,Lesley Garrison, Lauren Grant, Brian Lawson Aaron Loux, Laurel Lynch, Stacy Martorana, Dallas McMurray, Brandon Randolph, Nicole Sabella, Billy Smith, Noah Vinson,
Jenn Weddel,Michelle Yard and Janelle Barry, Patrick Coker, Brandon Cournay, Derek Crescenti, Amber Star Merkens, Maile Okamura, Wendy Joy Reinert, Utafumi Takemura and Nicholas Wagner.

Photo © & courtesy of Javier Del Real

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