The success of a Mark Morris choreography often seems linked to his choice of music: irresistible with Handel, the Schumann piano quintet, Mozart, Purcell, but less so in other cases. The mixed program brought by Mark Morris Dance Group to George Mason University Center for the Arts on Saturday night fell out along similar lines. In The Office, from 1994, three men and three women clad in semi-casual business attire (costumes by June Omura) wait for a severe, clipboard-wielding woman to call them into an office offstage -- are they being interviewed for a job, or being downsized one by one? Beginning with all six, and decreasing in number after each section of music, their movements incarnated the flight of fancy in response to the torment of waiting. The whimsical character of Dvořák's Bagatelles for two violins, cello, and harmonium (op. 47) captured the sense of minds wandering.
Morris's insistence on having live music to accompany his dancers extended in this case to having a harmonium in the pit (played by the versatile and talented Colin Fowler, with unexpected and pleasing results), even though Dvořák specifies that the part could be played on a piano instead. Flavors of square dance and tap crept into the choreography, and the canon of violin and cello in the fourth movement was reflected in the echo of a single dancer who mirrored two preceding dancers in the same way. By comparison, the newest choreography, Festival Dance, premiered in 2011, was set to music that seemed far less inspired, Johann Nepomuk Hummel's Piano Trio No. 5 in E major (op. 83). Some motifs in the dance came directly from the music: a tiptoe run that went with a skittering upward scale in the piano (the demanding part quite a workout for Fowler), and a staccato theme that gave rise to a funny up-and-down bobbing motion. The most beautiful part of this dance was a more ballet-oriented look, beginning with the opening pas de deux, full of graceful lifts, while other popular hints of the waltz or music theater seemed slightly hackneyed.
Sarah Kaufman, Mark Morris Dance Group, mixing pleasure and pain (Washington Post, February 11)
---, Mark Morris designs a dance after he picks his music (Washington Post, February 2)