Lincoln Center made an inspired choice in selecting Mark Morris to choreograph a work to celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday for the Mostly Mozart Festival back in 2006. Very few choreographers succeed at setting works to Mozart’s music but Morris brings something to it that is essential. In the three works that comprise the Mozart Dances, Morris engages in a beautiful conversation with the music. He tells the music through his choreography with leitmotifs which are sometimes steps and sometimes gestures. These steps and gestures recur at different times and across the three ballets and help to tie the whole thing together. He illuminates themes and instrumental voices but is never confined by the structure of the music. This dancing speaks to the freedom of spirit that Mozart’s music evokes and the dancers inhabit all of it with élan. Where some dancers would be tempted to show you all their teeth with engaging smiles, this group is admirably self-contained. They are calm and cool and only smile when they are really feeling it. Best of all, they move with ease, always with the music. Mozart’s music is filled with intelligence, wit and even passion but it’s always restrained by an overlay of civility and Morris has found an effective way to convey all of that in his Mozart Dances.

Mozart Dances, Mark Morris Dance group © Stephanie Berger
Mozart Dances, Mark Morris Dance group
© Stephanie Berger

To top off the experience, the performance was accompanied by the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra under the baton of Louis Langrée with Garrick Ohlsson at the piano. The three pieces Morris choreographed included the Piano Concerto No. 11, the Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos and the Piano Concerto No. 27. Ohlsson is such a consummate musician that I closed my eyes a few times to wallow in his playing. His fingers really dance along the keyboard with pure elegance. It’s hard to imagine better circumstances for a dance performance because the musicians gave perfect shape to Mozart’s musical ideas.

Eleven featured the women, led by Lauren Grant, who was mostly assigned to the piano solos. This was cheerful effervescence. This was where you truly began to appreciate Morris. His women cover the full spectrum of body types and they exuded the warmth of togetherness in a way that felt inclusive. Grant’s rendition of the first movement cadenza was superb as she followed the piano’s lead. The Double, set to the duo piano sonata, featured the men led by Aaron Loux who moved with courtly grace. The second movement stood out for the use of the circle as a central idea. The men moved in the circle, holding hands, and gave the impression of the circle waving, wobbling and weaving. Twenty-seven closed it out with the men and women back together again in a buoyant melding of mind and music. Morris had the dancers coming on and going off in a startling variety of combinations, all of it serving to enhance our experience of the music.

Mozart Dances, Mark Morris Dance Group © Stephanie Berger
Mozart Dances, Mark Morris Dance Group
© Stephanie Berger

Mark Morris stands apart as a choreographer for his remarkable use of music. He has many different ways of expressing what he hears and it all adds up to joy. His dancers share his sense of aesthetics and always make it fun to watch them, even when his choreography isn’t fully hitting the mark. This was a show where if you closed your eyes for a minute or two you would still be having a great time at a concert. Mozart Dances is a great piece of work and when paired with Garrick Ohlsson and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, it’s a terrific night at the theater.

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