L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, London Coliseum

Reviewed by Zoë Anderson
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The Independent Culture

It doesn't get better than this. L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, Mark Morris's masterpiece, is back in Britain after more than a decade. It's still glorious: one of the finest works of 20th-century dance, and one of the most loved. It's the kind of performance that has you heading for the box office as soon as the show is over, to see it all over again.

Milton's poems "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" are the work's foundations, contrasting the joyful and the contemplative. In 1740, Handel set the poems as an oratorio, adding a new section praising moderation. Morris also drew on Blake's illustrations to Milton. The layers of poetry, music and imagery make a complex and irresistible dance.

Morris's L'Allegro is a monumental work, created with soaring ambition and total confidence. It's grand in scale and concept, but utterly fresh in execution. The barefoot choreography draws on everything from the running and jumping of early modern dance, to exuberant folk steps, circle dances and gestures from Blake. Responding to Milton's pastoral world, he turns his dancers into trees and animals.

Jane Glover conducted an exuberant performance, with singers Sarah-Jane Brandon, Elizabeth Watts, Mark Padmore and Andrew Foster-Williams. The Mark Morris Dance Group, all 26 of them, dance with weighted strength and scampering glee.

They have a shared identity in the rippling group dances, while remaining individual. David Leventhal is enchanting in the "lark" solo, with bright eyes, darting head and a feathery lightness. June Omura leads the last "Penseroso" section, standing firm with one fist raised to the sky. Her pose has the scale and heroism of a constructivist poster.

Milton put "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" side by side. Handel added his balancing "Moderato". Morris ends with "L'Allegro", reordering the music for a joyful finale. As Handel's trumpets ring out, the dancers run in delight, in curling lines, an overflow of happiness in their skips and jumps.

Birmingham Hippodrome (0844 338 5000) 22-24 April