The Mark Morris Dance Group performance was certainly a new experience for me. I have never been to such a mixed arts event in the past. Walking in, before the first people came on stage, before even the lights began to dim, you are immediately aware of the art of the performance because of the backdrop of the stage. There is this brilliant painting that sets the background for the entire performance, consisting of what appears to be large brush strokes sweeping across the canvas. The entire painting consists of only 3 colors, but as the lighting changes on stage, the painting changes colors as well. This sets the mood for the performance, as the rest of the dancers come out dressed in similarly bright colors.
At the beginning of the performance, a group of 4 musicians come on stage and perform a short piece that also begins immersing the audience into the world of Layla and Majnun. The music is accompanied by English captions above the stage, translating the story being told by the two singers in the group. Immediately, from the key of the music and the poetic quotations being presented in the captions, the audience gets a feeling for the tragic nature of this story.
Then, the entire music ensemble walks on stage. As the musicians begin playing, the dancers start to walk out two at a time. All of the female dancers are dressed in these brilliant pink flowing dresses, and the men are dressed in bright blue. This choice of colors perfectly contrasted the men from the women, as well as made the aesthetic of the stage come together beautifully with the painting in the backdrop. This can be seen in the image below, taken by Susana Miller.
Throughout the performance, one is entranced by the beautiful singing of Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova, seated directly in the middle of the stage and surrounded by the music ensemble. They demonstrated an incredible control over their vocal range and ability to express such deep emotion in their voices. I do have to say I was biased towards focusing on the musicians more than the dancers, since my training is in music, not dance. This also meant I was new to the style of dance the Mark Morris group utilized. It was predominantly lyrical, trying to showcase the tragedy of this love story through the movements of the body. However, this also meant there was not a focus on showcasing skill, so the performance was much more centered on telling the story of Layla and Majnun rather than exhibiting the dancers. In this way, the choreography often included simple physical movements that demonstrated love and loss, repeated by each male/female pair in the dance group.
Overall, I fell in love with the beautiful colors of the stage and the voices of the singers and the talents of the musicians, but I found myself unable to stay focused on the dancers. My eyes kept drifting back to watch Alim and Fargana perform extraordinary cadenzas effortlessly. I would love to see the Mark Morris Dance Group perform in a more dance-central piece, but I was not able to experience the character and skill of the group in this performance.
by Kim Sinclair