Theater & art

Dance Review

A magical night with Mark Morris Dance Group at Jacob’s Pillow

Jenn Weddel and Sam Black of the Mark Morris Dance Group in the duet “Jenn and Spencer,” which they performed at Jacob’s Pillow.
Jamie Kraus
Jenn Weddel and Sam Black of the Mark Morris Dance Group in the duet “Jenn and Spencer,” which they performed at Jacob’s Pillow.

BECKET — Call it a midsummer night’s dream: There was something magical about the opening night of Mark Morris Dance Group at Jacob’s Pillow, beginning with the wild storm that sent us all soaked into the theater. Peevish gods hovered, but puckish spirits triumphed. The Morris dancers are, as always, vibrant of expression, both physical and facial, and the four Morris dances are masterfully designed and giddily musical; three are accompanied live, as usual with this company, by skilled musicians.

Though the two large group pieces that bookend the program, the 2013 “Crosswalk” and “Festival Dance,” from 2011, share enough Morrisian choreographic trademarks that they lose a bit of distinction later in the mind, this is less a flaw than perhaps a sense that they’d benefit by not being on the same program. In any event, the overall sunniness that warms the two dances is also shaded by welcome hints of dusk.

Set to Carl Maria von Weber’s “Grand Duo Concertant” for clarinet and piano, the intersection of “Crosswalk” is that of the everyday and the everyone — dancers skip, somersault, and break out into quick little folksy heel chugs, their elbows twitching like chicken wings — bumping against the deeper secrets and dramas of individuals who sometimes flick their hands at each other like sorcerers or pirouette with a yearning arch back. The opening, in which a woman is knocked down as groups of unaware passersby whoosh and leap about, shifts almost imperceptibly from mild slapstick to a subtle anxiety of the daily race of living. The compelling middle section depicts a shifting power struggle between two women and one man, while an ensemble crosses and re-crosses upstage with a funereal yet detached two-dimensionality, witnessing but not commenting.


From the urban and pedestrian to the pastoral and ritualistic we go in “Festival Dance,” a now gently bawdy, now solemnly formal suite of breezy, overlapping dances punctuated by two lead couples who perhaps represent a before-and-after of young lust and mature love. Though I think “Festival Dance” wants more depth and distance than the Pillow stage can offer, these dancers made up for some deficiencies of expansiveness with a genuine warmth. With low, Romantic-era arabesques, they sweep and swoon to Johann Hummel’s Piano Trio No. 5, and aside from a few passing clouds — the women sometimes hold their hands up in, I guess, maidenly terror at unseen ogres lurking at the forest edge — the piece is an unabashed paean to joy. Maybe those clouds are there to remind us to make hay while the sun shines, because it will rain again.

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To our delight, in his hilarious 2012 “A Wooden Tree,” Morris is not so polite, unleashing his flair for Benny Hill-worthy boisterous naughtiness. In a series of skit-like scenes set to ditties recorded by the Scottish humorist Ivor Cutler, the dancers grope and tweak each other with deadpanned expressions. Still, Morris manages, just at the end, to artfully morph this drollery into melancholy as two dancers sit face-to-face yet fail to connect.

The 2013 duet “Jenn and Spencer” is a wonderfully tempestuous depiction of a relationship that is both electric and destructive, the moodiness sharpened by the bite of Henry Cowell’s Suite for Violin and Piano. Originally created on Jenn Weddel — who dances it here with Sam Black — and former company member Spencer Ramirez, the dancers circle the stage, eyeing each other warily, or grapple on the floor, somewhere between precoital twining and repulsed writhings. If Weddel wasn’t always on her leg during those gorgeous falling-back steps that each does, separately and achingly, she and Black were otherwise dynamic and sympathetic. One doesn’t pick sides, but hopes their stormy exit isn’t the end of it all.

Janine Parker can be reached at