Exuberant joy meets premeditated evil. Sophie Constanti is impressed

dance Mark Morris Dance Group, Edinburgh Festival
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The Independent Culture
On their fourth visit in as many years, the Mark Morris Dance Group has brought two separate shows to Edinburgh. The opening batch of five works leaves you with the overriding impression that Morris is still the reliable highlight of the festival's dance selection. This year, the choreographer also participates as dancer. And while Edinburgh audiences may be getting a more rotund Morris than the already hefty figure he cut at Woking Dance Umbrella last March, they're also more fortunate to be catching him in a pair of contrasting works in which impulsive, exuberant joy - in The Office - and smooth, premeditated evil - in One Charming Night - are vividly conveyed.

The latter, a duet for Morris and Teri Weksler, is as disturbing in its connotations of child abuse as Lovey (both were made in 1985). The vampiric Morris swoops upon Weksler's young girl, sucks her blood, then flies into the night with her happily clinging to his back. The Office, set to Dvorak's music from Bagatelles, throws five people together in a tenuous, unfathomable camaraderie and rewards them with little more than the pleasures of dancing together. That is, until a prim, bespectacled woman (Tina Fehlandt), armed with a clipboard and wearing a suit as drab as Morris's phrases are flamboyant, gradually breaks up the group by leading its members off stage one by one. It's too far-fetched a theory to say that these employees are losing their jobs just because they happen to turn up for work in windcheaters, open-necked shirts and cardies. But the dance could be read as a comment on uniformity and the consequences of trying to ignore or escape it. It also illustrates the art of swapping one set of rules for a more enjoyable set: those of the rapturous Slavonic dances.

If The Office is a 20th-century daydream in the cause of sanity and stolen pleasures, Morris's Somebody's Coming to See Me Tonight is its 19th-century equivalent. Using eight songs and a polka by the American composer Stephen Foster, Morris creates a string of poignant period images featuring everyday folk at work and play. The Irish influence audible in some of Foster's ballads threatens a matching folksiness of choreography. But Morris does not succumb. He inserts plenty of lighthearted banter and flirtation between the sexes, but it is their hopes and dreams that drive the dance forward.

By comparison, Lucky Charms is all spangly fun, its chorus lines strutting and high-kicking between bouts of foul play. And Polka, the final section of Morris's Grand Duo to Lou Harrison's jerking, ecstatic score for violin and piano, rounds off an evening that leaves you staggered at the multiplicity of choreographic worlds that Morris inhabits.

Mark Morris's version of 'The Nutcracker' at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre (0131-225 5756) 29 Aug to 2 Sept

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