Mark Morris: 'Gloria', 'The Argument' and 'Rhymes with silver'

(Sadler's Wells, October 8th, 1999).
Essay for Dance History at London Contemporary Dance School

- I love the way in which I make up dances!
(Mark Morris)

The Mark Morris Dance Group brought three different pieces to the London premiere of their UK tour. His company danced "Gloria", to Vivaldi's "Gloria in D", "The argument" to Schumann's "Fünf Stücke im Volkston", and "Rhymes with silver" to a commissioned score by Lou Harrison.

Gloria starts with two dancers slowly progressing towards the audience, one on the floor, one walking. Such contrasts of energy are typical in this piece, often with some dancers passively lying or being dragged while others are moving. A more extreme contrast follows, when in a sudden burst of energy, the crawling man rises to a turn, then a sudden blackout gives the audience time to "digest" the movement during a period where nothing happens on stage. Does this mirror the music's alternation between reflection and ecstatic praise?

The dance is filled with travelling across the stage, and dynamic contrasts between passivity and activity, percussive movement and flow. The apparently constant travel in and out of the stage, means that the dance is perceived as divided into numerous small sections, while the dancers on stage changes. Canon structures underline a sense of travel and development, when we see movements "travel" from one dancer to another.

The movement is clearly inspired by the score, sometimes also seems set to the text. Simple movements may be co-ordinated with words - for instance when a soloist arcs on "celestis". Some parts of the dance seem even more connected to the text. In the 'Agnus Dei'-section, a man is doing a grieving solo in front, while people are walking across the stage by the back wall. Two women and one man dance the following section, "searching" till they see the previous soloist walk by. Thus, this part of the dance seems to be a dramatic version of the biblical narrative. It is interesting to consider to what extent Christian thoughts and tales, rendered in the Catholic mass which structures Vivaldi's music, influence the dance.

The Argument for six dancers to the music of Schumann is equally character- and music-driven. It is structured as series of duos and small solos, depicting three couples and their relationship. The movements are always passionate and strong, but the three couples have different styles, from the large gestures and aggressive leg lifts of the first couple, to the restricted "shadow boxing" of the third, who display frustration through rapid, small attacks, never towards the other person. The choreography sometimes reminds one of ballroom dancing, which may in turn have inspired the "cocktail-party" costumes. Since these are more related to everyday life than for instance the blue dresses of Gloria, they also signal that the dance describes characters from "real life".

Morris appears himself, his character seems to be struggling to get his point through to his partner, and the performance is instantly and effortlessly believable.

This dance relies on the sense of dramatic epic, and has a very marked ending, where the choreography seems to reveal the futures of the couples: the "restricted" couple breaks up, and she leaves the stage, while the couple that appeared more aggressive now seems to have gained a greater stability in their relationship. The dance attempts to be psychologically correct, but its main emotional strength might lie in the audience's identification of the moments where the dancers through, during or in spite of their conflicts recognise that they are working to