Mark Morris Dance Group offers 90 minutes of Mozartian classical heaven.

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth
February 15, 2015

Mark Morris is the larger than life and just as outspoken doyen of American choreographers and his 2006 hit, Mozart Dances, is appropriately a great big peacock of a show. A Perth Festival headliner, it demands a symphony orchestra (in this instance the excellent WASO) plus two solo pianists. And it offers 16 dancers in 90 minutes of unalloyed upbeat dance that dazzlingly reflects the Enlightenment ideals of the age it celebrates – that of its musical inspiration, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A tripartite event, the first third features Morris’s women dancing to Mozart’s seldom-heard Eleventh Piano Concerto in the sunny key of F Major. The mens’ turn comes next in Double, danced to the equally jaunty Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos. Finally, after an interval, all come together for a romp through the famous B Flat Major Piano Concerto No 27. If that sounds like a smorgasbord of jollity, it is, and if I had one criticism it would be a yearning for something minor key, preferably somewhere in the middle. However, curmudgeonly whims aside, what Morris has to offer is possibly the most carefree night of dance this side of heaven so why complain?

A series of stunning backcloths courtesy of the British artist Sir Howard Hodgkin revel in James F. Ingalls’ nuanced lighting design (the changes from yellows, through pinks to reds and purples is a show in itself). Against this, Morris’s dancers caper and cavort in series of set pieces that are both abstract yet laced with narrative elements to keep you guessing as to who will be coupling with who. We never quite get to see those conjugations, but there’s seemingly plenty going on in the wings as offstage events are as tantalisingly hinted at as onstage, with dancers being physically carried into view as often as out of it.

Morris’s choreographic language is classical at root, unfailingly graceful – even when doing knock-knees and pot bellies – with plenty of linking gestural motifs that recur throughout all three works and an almost obsessive desire to reflect Mozart’s orchestrational and rhythmic manoeuvres. His dancers are refreshingly neither uniformly young or unnecessarily thin – and there’s a healthy democratisation going on with short dancers lifting tall ones at least as often as the other way around.

Eleven, the opener, is, for my money, the most rewarding piece – a series of dances for eight women that echo healthful beach games like follow-the-leader and such. Choruses yomp across the stage in wholesome teams, yet there’s a classical simplicity to much of Morris’s movement that conveys purity as well as high spirits. The beautiful Larghetto middle movement combines a sense of playfulness with a feeling of calm, yet maintains the overriding feeling of effortless joy.

In Double, the men posture and preen, marching around the stage like precious little toy soldiers. There’s an effete quality to the movement here that is sometimes witty, frequently brilliant but, like the self-absorbed courtiers they are perhaps portraying, has a surface quality that is sometimes hard to penetrate. The Andante is the most winning movement here, a six-handed round dance into which an outsider is repeatedly thrust, before it all dissolves in a series of winding and unwinding human chains.

The longest of the three parts, Twenty Seven, is a sun-drenched bucolic picnic in which men and women leap, fall and rise again in a riot of combinations. If the middle movement Larghetto feels like a series of romantic strolls in the park, the final Rondo is a rumbustious folk dance, all knees-up and thumbs in braces with a delicious dollop of ‘country matters’.

Keeping the soufflé afloat was a faultless WASO under the baton of Colin Fowler (who also played one of the pianos in Double) with Amir Farid a sensitive and detailed soloist in the concerti. Morris is famously a stickler for live music. That’s what he got, and it doesn’t come much better than this.