Crosscut Tout: A Mark Morris dance you must not miss

"Gloria," a youthful masterpiece by a Seattle master, returns in May
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Lauren Grant and the Mark Morris company in "Gloria."

"Gloria," a youthful masterpiece by a Seattle master, returns in May

Editor's note: This story ran several weeks back and is reprinted this weekend as the Mark Morris company is in town.

Dance is a young person'ꀙs game. Sure, the greatest tangueros and tangueras are middle-aged or older; sure, Baryshnikov at 62 is as mesmerizing to watch as ever. But the fact is that just plain juice — hormones, pheromones, that teen spirit — is the fuel dance runs on.

Sometimes it'ꀙs the fuel that creates the dance. Jerome Robbins'ꀙ strange melancholy masterwork "New York Export: Opus Jazz" (seen all over America in a new staging in late March on PBS'ꀙs Great Performances), was the work of a man recalling youth, idealizing youth, desperately evoking youth as it faded from him. But sometimes youth itself makes the dance, pours it out in full thoughtless flood. Such a work is "Gloria," created in 1981 on a part-time company of friends by a 25-year-old independent choreographer named Mark Morris.

"Gloria" is only one of three Morris works coming to Seattle'ꀙs Paramount Theater May 21-23; but it is the one which you must see, whether you are a dance fan, a baroque music buff, a theater maven, or simply a person who has sometimes felt moving in the soul the feeling expressed by Dylan Thomas'ꀙs immortally longing Polly Garter in Under Milk Wood: 'ꀜOh, isn'ꀙt life a terrible thing, thank God?'ꀝ

Despite its exuberant title, "Gloria" ranges across more emotions and moods in its half-hour than many a full-evening drama or ballet. Bodies crawl, struggle erect, reach for the sky and fall again; a couple skate hand in hand to a gently rocking pastorale, haunted by a hobbling spasmodic trying to join their dance; a single man struggles with his demons in silhouette while crowds pass indifferently by. The moments of pure beauty are few (the heavenly children'ꀙs play-yard of the laudamus te is exceptional). "Gloria" is an ever-unfolding process, a vision of individual and collective yearning to rise and the eager embracing of freedom and movement before inevitable fall.

Morris is now 53. He rarely dances any more (though he'ꀙs begun conducting more and more often), and none of 10 friends for whom he made the original "Gloria" are still dancing. Their bodies formed the matrix for the unprecedentedly personal movement style of the Morris company, and in a way their souls are still dancing away; a boy goes pinwheeling across the stage in a graceful crouch, he'ꀙs channeling the body and spirit of David Landis; the one who rushes hopping and clicking his heels has a ghostly Donald Mouton dancing with him. When tiny Lauren Grant reaches titptoe for the sky, tiny Teri Weksler is straining with her.

Dance is notoriously hard to convey in words. The feeling of Morris'ꀙs dances, a completely fused blend of modern, Balkan, ballet, and countless trace elements beyond, is harder to convey than most. Fortunately, it doesn'ꀙt need explication, or rather, explicates itself, requiring nothing of the watcher but eyes, ears, and a beating heart. And among Morris'ꀙs scores of dances, even among grand-scale masterworks like" L'ꀙallegro," "Mozart Dances," and "Dido and Aeneas," "Gloria" is unique: in its driving energy, concentration, and unity of tone. Bob Fosse called one of his most notable numbers 'ꀜThe Rhythm of Life'ꀝ: but the message of "Gloria" is even simpler. The beat goes on.

Mark Morris Dance Group with Seattle Symphony at STG'ꀙs Paramount Theater May 21-23. Program: "A Lake" (Haydn); "Jesu, meine Freude" (J.S. Bach); "Gloria" (Vivaldi). Note that Early Music Guild is also promoting the event, and you can get 15% discounts through the EMG website.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Roger Downey

Roger Downey is a Seattle writer interested in food, the arts, the sciences, and urban manners. He is currently working on a book about the birth of opera in 1630s Venice.