Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; November 29, 2013    

Charlotte Kasner    

Mark Morris Dance Group in Socrates. Photo © Gene Schiavone

Mark Morris Dance Group in Socrates. Photo © Gene Schiavone

Seeing the Mark Morris Company is always a treat but especially so when the entire programme comprises works that have not been seen in London before.

Programme A opened with “The Muir”, danced to Irish and Scottish folk songs arranged by, believe it or not, Beethoven. This unlikely combination produces some tunes familiar to the ear, which is fortunate because it was often not possible to hear lyrics. The soprano, Jennifer France, had particularly muddy diction and tended to launch herself towards the higher elements. The tenor and baritone, Zach Finkelstein and Johnny Herford were better, although the tutti singing again blurred words.

The dance was of a much higher calibre. Morris makes great use of épaulement and upper body movements which contrast with the light skipping, and that together compliment beautifully the folk songs. The choreography fits his company like a glove too. The movement is fluid and expressive throughout, with the dancers sometimes even seeming to flirt with each other. “Sally in Our Alley”, in particular, was exceptionally delightful and witty.

“Crosswalk” is danced to a Carl Maria von Weber clarinet concerto, beautifully played by Todd Palmer and with vibrant, orange costumes. Again, movement was fluid and continuous, with seamless transitions between low and high, fast and slow. The eye flits from dancer to dancer and they exit and enter, cross and make contact in a series of dramatic encounters. Yet, Morris also knows how to make best use of stillness, not filling every musical beat with music, but letting the movement grow organically out of it.

Best of a very good bunch was the final piece, “Socrates”, danced to Erik Satie, not in a whimsical mood but to his song cycle. It is a deeply thoughtful work, sung here by Zach Finkelstein in better form than in “The Muir”. “Socrates” showed Morris’ dancers in a totally different light. Their stances and stillness are somewhat reminiscent of Nijinsky’s attempts to recreate friezes in “L’Après Midi d’un Faun”. Again, Morris’ grasp of the fundamentals of ports de bras is much in evidence. The lyrics are extremely moving and muse upon death and the rights and wrongs of capital punishment. The quietly restrained choreography is generally illustrative, and melds with the singing with just the right balance.

All round, this was a subtle and sophisticated evening all the more appreciable for having live music.