Flame orange wool mini skirts, bell bottoms and palazzo pants — everyone’s in sunrise colors, lemon and tangerine and rose — we’re in Southern California the 1960s.
And people in elegant plumage are gathering as though they’re at an open mic or on a street corner in the sun, with the casual recognition of folk who share a neighborhood or an affinity — dancing to light, warm pop music …
“What the world needs now is love … not just for some, but for everyone.”
On a night between storms in a 21st-century summer, that refrain shifts in depth and resonance, like an unexpected chord.
As the summer season opens at Jacob’s Pillow, the Mark Morris Dance Group is performing The Look of Love, an homage to the music of Burt Bacharach.
In their exuberant color and movement, and live music, they offer a celebration, even as the work has become an homage in his memory, Pillow artistic director Pamela Tatge explained. The company debuted this work in Los Angeles last fall, and Bacharach came to see it, and loved it, a few months before he died.
In Morris’ hands, the work has the depth to hold that loss and still shimmer, laughing, teasing, challenging … unexpectedly real.
Always Something There to Remind Me …
Marcy Harriel sings with a live ensemble, her voice rich and deft with humor. Bacharach wrote many of his best-known hits in a longtime collaboration with six-time Grammy awardwinning singer Dionne Warwick. His top 40 hits with an upbeat swing, take inspiration from Brazilian and jazz rhythms. He played with chords and shifting time signatures.
Do you know the way to San José?
In the quick-changing rhythms we can see and hear connections between Bacharach’s music and a company with deep choreographic roots in modern contemporary and ballet.
Like Bacharach, the Mark Morris Dance Group has a home in California, in Berkeley, though their reach, like Morris’ choreography, has grown internationally for decades — he has roots in modern and contemporary and ballet, across generations and around the world, in close collaborations from Lar Lubovitch to Mikhail Baryshnikov.
‘Always something there to remind me …’
His balletic influence shows here in repeated elements of movement, an upraised arm, fast limber footwork, and laced with a sense of humor. Formal movements merge fluidly into passion and comedy. A lift transforms into an embrace.
Sometimes the company takes on a consciously dramatic rhythm — a fist thumping a chest, an exaggerated movement with dead-pan solemnity. And against or around them, a solo dancer moving with a natural and expressive grace.
In mischievously modern and minimalist opening to Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head — sound mirroring the first heavy drops before the skies open — the ensemble makes a light comedy of jumping puddles and taking shelter … and Domingo Estrada dances a triumphant solo in the downpour, as the piano comes in with the melody line.
Anyone who had a heart …
On this stage, when he turns high energy into vulnerability, Mica Bernas can lift him and share the weight. He and Randolph Brandon can take hands. People can come together freely. Among them, they are creating a place where movement flows naturally, and implied barriers can be dissolved.
Among dancers diverse in heights, ages, backgrounds, every body can be beautiful. Everyone can dance every move — everyone can lift or be lifted, ask or answer. They are not leading or following but giving and taking energy.
The company weaves between comedy and contrast. In the opening song, they lined up in a social dance, spinning and changing partners with friendly formality, and even in these fluid exchanges they paired off male and female here, while the music reminded us of a universal need for love for everyone.
So I found myself looking for the moments when the definition of love broadened into something three-dimensional, living and triumphant. I’ll never fall in love again — a woman turns away from the man she’s been partnering and sees a woman’s outstretched hand.
A man lifts a man and they lean together. A dancer opens their body with unselfconscious exhilaration.
In Message to Michael, Dallas McMurray lip-syncs in a rose and crimson robe — and among the rapid high-flying movements of the group we can see him in glimpses, standing in a circle of dancers sitting on floor pillows, arms wide and confident.
‘I hear Michael has gone and changed their name … Let them know I’ll always love them … Fly away …’
Remembering Ted Shawn — and another rainy evening when I came to the Pillow, to learn his story first-hand, and read his letters to Barton Mumaw, one of his original Men Dancers, who was serving overseas in World War II — I have to think he would have been laughing with them.