DANCE / Edinburgh Festival: Morris dancers do it with creative genius
Sunday 23 August 1992
Suddenly they fly off the low wall as if to live within the music, bending and curling inside the chords. This music is 300 years old (by Purcell) but Mark Morris makes it new again through dance. So developed is his musicality that the familiar tum-ta-tum of the Baroque score feels as though it was composed, say, about a month ago. The effect makes you shiver.
Purcell wrote Dido and Aeneas to be performed by girls at a boarding school. There is a notoriously silly libretto by one Nahum Tate, but never mind that, Mark Morris has his own ideas. (Indeed, it is his ideas that led to the hate-hate relationship between him and Belgian audiences when he was at the Theatre de la Monnaie between 1988 and 1991. They thought him a loathsome loudmouth and begged him to go back to America. He thought them virtually fascist and said so.)
Less than an hour long, Dido and Aeneas tells of the seduction of Dido, Queen of Carthage, by Aeneas. So heroic is he after the Trojan war (and doesn't he know it?) that he is earmarked by the gods to do nothing less than found Rome. He stops at Carthage and falls for Dido.
A militant homosexual, Morris plays the Queen of Carthage. Ha] But the joke is on us. He bends gender to such an extent that he renders it irrelevant. Dido goes beyond character to become a commanding emblem for the syndrome an American writer describes as smart women making foolish choices. Morris's only concession to the role is tying his hair back.
The Morris style is best exemplified in the chorus, who play courtiers, witches, spirits, and sailors. They slip in and out of a weighty style, centred around the torso with swinging arms, so that one second they are Donna Summer shrugging wide shoulders in a disco, the next children leaping like frogs in a playground, then inmates at a home for people with nervous tics.
The ideas keep flowing: there is mime (hands circling the face denote a mirror), symbolism in the fanned hands of despair, signing for the deaf (a sickle shape meaning 'never' underlines the libretto) and an Indian flavour, with hands and feet upturned. He keeps the audience busy watching.
There is a respite when the stage is cleared for the seduction scene. The bare-chested, dreadlocked Guillermo Resto lies on top of Dido, consummating their love with one pelvic thrust, a star pupil of the wham bam (that long?) school, leaving a deflated Dido, arms outstretched. A far cry indeed from a girls' boarding school.
Morris is very clever, very intriguing, but the thought that niggles is that he may be stuck. Although true to the great traditions of modern American dance, he never quite reaches beyond them. Still, the wild man deserves his reputation as a creative genius.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish independence results live - The reunited kingdom: Scotland gives a clear 'No' in historic referendum
- 2 iOS 8 is full of shiny new features - but it's terrible news for app developers
- 3 Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death
- 4 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 5 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams cast in new Channel 4 drama about cyber bullying
Downton Abbey: Liam Neeson wants to be a stableman in period drama
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Star Wars 7 leaked set photo of Adam Driver changes everything
The Walking Dead season 5 synopsis: Spoilers and existential questions abound
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'