There are many musical choreographers, but few have the detailed level of knowledge of Mark Morris. In fact, Morris's musical understanding is so great that as well as creating dance, he also conducts orchestras. However, it is his dance company that is drawing audiences this week with seven works previously unseen in London.
It is Morris's intention to have dancers that look like normal people rather than elite performers, and this is clearly evident onstage. Movements are simple and earthy with bold arm lines; the high leg extensions and virtuosic tricks of most contemporary dance choreography are seldom (if ever) in evidence.
Opening Programme A is The Muir, in which a cast of six run on and off the stage performing brief sequences to Irish and Scottish folk songs arranged by Ludwig van Beethoven. This is followed by the evening's newest work, Crosswalk, which premiered earlier this year and also features short interludes of dance. Both perplex and amuse in equal measure, with the occasional hints of character pleasing most.
Concluding the programme is Socrates, performed to a beautiful choral score by Erik Satie, and it is in this work that we felt most engaged. Cascades of dancers demonstrate simple but powerfully striking sequences responding to different aspects of the musical accompaniment. Sometimes the lyrics and narrative (about Socrates's death) take focus; at other times, Morris pays attention to a single note on the piano.
Morris's inspirations are complex and detailed. One moment his dancers seem to melt into the musical accompaniment, the next the choreographic link to the score becomes barely tenable. But it is an interesting experience to see his company in performance, whether trying to understand the choreographer's intentions or simply watching, listening and enjoying.
Mark Morris Dance Group is at Sadler's Wells until 1 December. Tickets priced £12-38 are available at the Sadler's Wells website. Londonist received a complimentary ticket to review this production.
Pictured: Mark Morris Dance Group in Socrates / Photo: Gene Schiavone