Mark Morris Dance Group, Sadler's Wells, London

Nadine Meisner
Sunday 09 March 2014 03:01

As a choreographer Mark Morris is some sort of genius, as a performer he is a star and as a showcase his company is one of America's most viable dance exports. If you didn't already know this, then the programme at Sadler's Wells will drive it home in the most painless, delicious way possible.

Peccadillos is the latest in a series of sensational solos for Morris in which this burly 45-year-old – his paunch gets bigger with every visit – dances with an unexpectedly nimble grace and precision. Using three nursery piano pieces by Satie (including Peccadilles importunes), the visual concept is brilliant. Morris's adult figure is joined on stage by a tiny toy grand piano at which (the equally adult) Ethan Iverson sits and plays. The contrast of scale is dramatic, present and past seem juxtaposed, while Morris performs contrasting numbers. At times the choreography is full of fragmentary gestures that seem to have been dredged from distant memory; at others it is built from folk dance, the motifs transmuted into some strange, faux-naïf language. As soon as it was over, I wanted to watch it all over again.

Like Morris, the 17 members of his group are individualists who dance full out, as if dance is life-affirming, which it is, and as if it doesn't matter that they wear the most unflattering costumes – baby-doll chiffon shifts, bell-shaped tunics with bare thighs and the like.

The title of the programme's world premiere – V – refers to the cast's repeated V formations and to Schumann's accompanying Quintet in E Flat. If one were to cavil: not every choreographic section is equally interesting. But that's a small penalty for the arresting dance imagery that cascades from the wings and epitomises the Morris gift. There is no design, only lighting and movement so imaginative and bold that it grabs your eyes, stirs your mind and squeezes your heart. Only Morris, for example, could have thought of having lines of dancers walk on all fours like jerky reptiles, then having them progressively stand, like a picture of human evolution. And only he could have linked this to the theme of romantic couples, and made it all gel together, so that you feel you're looking through a panoramic window on human life.

In I Don't Want to Love, choreographed for the 1996 Edinburgh Festival, white-clad dancers evoke the songs of Monteverdi, full of longing and torment. Music is a treat the whole evening, presented live by singers and musicians who have travelled here with the company. Lisa Lee and Ethan Iverson play Lou Harrison's violin and piano score for the astonishing Grand Duo, a thundering, totemic and disturbing epic, which once seen is never forgotten. It gets performances at some of the venues on the company's UK tour, but V does not.

At Sadler's Wells to 20 Oct, 020-7863 8000; touring to 17 Nov

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