15 March 2009

Mark Morris Dance Group, 14 March 2009: Romeo and Juliet Lives, News at 11.

Romeo and Juliet, on Motifs of Shakespeare
Choreographed by Mark Morris
Performed by the Mark Morris Dance Group

14 March 2009
Krannert Center - Tryon Festival Theater
Orchestra Center, Row V, Seat 5 (last row, approximately center, on steep incline to stage)

I gave up my initial idea of adding yet more profundity to the subject of gender politics somewhere between the first and second scenes of Act I. What more can I say that others have not stated already? That women were cast Tybalt and Mercutio and added a predictable but curiously heterosexual slant to those characters (and to those interactions with their male peers)? That indeed the sexual politics of the adult world include a heavy element of violence; and of, in Mr Morris's words, women's ability to fight back (only) in context of their positions and roles?

Krannert does not have the best acoustics from the pit - the orchestra must sit very low and the sound (which logically follows location) emanates from a boxed opening before the stage, affecting the quality greatly. There were a few scary moments with the strings at first, but tensions were worked out as musicians dug deeper, both dramatically and chronologically, into the score. Prokofieff's restored score was a revelation. I heard it with some disbelief, not believing that such minor changes could have wrought so much. There is a lushness and delicacy of timbre and tone that was missing previously, and it seems to have become more thematically varied. I no longer felt as if the various leitmotifs directed the brass to relentlessly pound my ears into submission.

The New York Times review disliked the production with more energy than I was capable of last night. I will not repeat Mr Macaulay's exact words on the needless repetitions of steps except to say that I share them, and that I began to cringe halfway through the second scene as the hitch steps and the endless low arabesques detracted my attention from the action with their predictability and their regular devotion to the melody. The choreography is not not musical, but it is wedded to an annoyingly regular melodic sense that positions the steps within the music instead of through the musical phrases.

Morris's Verona is a sensual and interactive world. Dancers form relationships with each other, indulge in games, clumsy plots, and occasionally transparent enmities that are covered over with cartoonish displays of friendship when the Prince (or perhaps the parent) approaches. Tho' brutal in the machinations of men and women (see Lady Capulet's introduction of Juliet to Paris by a shove, also Paris's manhandling of Juliet during the banquet), it is one in which the men and women seem to have apparent sexual lives without relegating it to the realm of MacMillan's courtesans or (even worse, perhaps) yet another psychological drama involving Siegfried's tutor.

Maile Okamura was a superb Juliet. Her restraint made Juliet poignant, deeply unhappy and in search of something more equal and tender than what Paris, merely a rich thug in this production, was capable of. It was clear in her duet with lady Capulet that she was not a fully grown woman. Where as Lady Capulet, all heavy skirts and sombre hair, sank into the steps as if mired in the concerns and power games of that fair city, Juliet in white floated above them, delicately sculpting the air as if to delineate a higher realm in which she still dwells. However, even in her independence there is some level of resignation - the poison holds no perverse fascination for her, she takes it as is her duty.

Romeo, whose name I will recall if only I had my program - where oh where is it, was a peculiarly gentle man, his bearing often reminding me of Dear Ashley Wilkes (for good or ill) off in world parallel to this one. However, as mystically and ecstatically connected as the young people were at first meeting, neither provided sufficient dramatic motivation to the audience for taking action in order to be together; instead, they were pulled and pushed in various directions, subordinate to the Needs of the Plot instead of the Dictates of Emotion.

These dramatic inconsistencies proliferate throughout the production. Mercutio is still a jester, a mad cap prankster whose character is fleshed out during a pantomime sequence with Juliet's nurse, but the dramatic development comes too late, as Romeo is instead convinced to go to the Capulets' party by unknown means. Rosaline was included in this production and explicitly rejected Romeo at the party for sake of emotional closure. However, was this rejection out of duty? Sheer dislike? I could not read it clearly and she faded into the general obscurity in the company of other townsfolk soon after. However, as this scene came at the expense of establishing Mercutio's relationship and importance to Romeo, the poignance of Mercutio's death is undercut by his portrayal as simply the Jester and I could have done without it.

Two other relationships were of special note: that of Friar Laurence, now a much younger and vital man, with Romeo, and that of Nurse and her servant. We see Romeo glancing sharply at Friar Laurence during the establishing scene - the relationship is never explained. Was it a warning from the Friar, a warning to Romeo over his impetuous emotions? Had the Friar identified his likely instrument for reconciling the ancient feud? We are never told. Instead the Friar resumes his wiseman role before briefly transforms into a dancing role in Act III, illustrating a non-point to Juliet for reasons that are dramatically obscure. Second, the Nurse oscillated between moments of intense identification and blankness with Juliet. Was her servant (the man in the green cap she dances with) simply a servant? It seemed like her sympathy toward Juliet could have been motivated by a similarly confounding relationship with man (perhaps that servant) but it is never entirely made clear. Again, her rejection of Juliet is not dramatically consistent in Act IV - there is no inner struggle, the Nurse does so because the plot demands it but there are no hidden feelings nor conflicts. One other outstanding character had no set choreography: he is simply the Prince's flag-bearer. Perhaps even more self-important than the man he serves, he paces about the town with a measure of self-important insouciance that even his master could not (or would not) match.

Macaulay discussed several plot inconsistencies, so I will skip over those (I share most of his objections) and expand yet again on my perception of Morris's logic of setting dance to music. The choreography was most effective for pairs and single dancers - the dance of the townsfolk with their stylistic poses and shuffle steps was repetitive and in many cases made me cringe. What was it meant to do? However, there was also great gentleness in moments, particularly by the women with their soft port de bras, lifting the air with their arms and torsos, but in most others I was distracted by the preponderance of steps. There were steps in isolation, repeated sequences, mirrored sequences, sequences repeated to other characters. In addition, at moments there seemed to have been isolated quotes from the MacMillan choreography. Regardless, all in all it was an overload of choreography in places that really did not need it, almost as if the choreographer did not fully trust the music to carry the moment.

05 March 2009

In a curious juxtaposition, after reading Croce's "Farrell and Farrell-isms", I had the most curious image of Suzanne Farrell's reappearance in the Symphony in C Adagio; she is jammed unceremoniously into her costume before someone gives her a great shove, at which time Ms Farrell begins bourreeing fantastically, floating in the direction of the force applied onto the stage and into the arms of her cavalier.

It is then I realize that it is merely a ballet recreation of the Prince on the Bridge of a Castle Moat from The Sound of Music and grow heartily ashamed of myself.