When Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project came into being early last year, Mark Morris supplied all the choreography. Only on the latest tour has the repertory become a 51-year cavalcade of modern dance.
A partial shuffle of programming, Tuesday in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, suggested that the original concept may have been better. Morris’ “A Lake” not only expresses itself at opera-house scale (as opposed to many of the other White Oak acquisitions), but it parallels Baryshnikov’s search for new career directions with a quest of its own.
Set to Haydn’s second horn concerto, it makes Baryshnikov the nominal leader/focus/fulcrum for relatively democratic group play. No, Morris doesn’t try to turn the Kirov’s finest into a corps dancer, just to use Baryshnikov’s prominence essentially as a spatial device.
Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes strip period formal clothes to their essential shapes, leaving lots of bare limbs on view. In the same way, Morris preserves vestiges of courtly elegance while using forms of interplay (including gymnastics and same-sex partnering) expressing contemporary freedoms.
Like “Ten Suggestions” (a previously reviewed Morris solo on the same program), “A Lake” considers the uses of the past, specifically a young American’s perspective on European cultural tradition.
Morris asks that we look freshly at old landmarks and his musicality alone makes the invitation irresistible--even on a night when Thomas Bacon’s horn solos prove problematic and the women’s dancing uneven.
The pioneers of modern dance seldom created for 3,000-seat concert halls, so the ingenuities of a vintage solo such as Jane Dudley’s “Harmonica Breakdown” can’t always make their intended impact at long distance.
Against inspired harmonica-washboard recordings by Sonny Terry and Oh Red, Dudley experiments with contrasts between stiff, linear motion (long strides with the knees unbent) and sudden positional meltdowns (head sags, floppy hands).
Add to this playoff a series of gestural snapshots loaded with emotional or narrative implications plus a pervasive delight in rhythm: qualities that find former Lar Lubovitch dancer Nancy Colahan looking at once offhand and accomplished. The White Oak program places a 1938 date on the solo; other sources say 1940. Either way, it deserves to be seen--but in a more intimate venue.
Martha Graham’s “El Penitente” featured a new woman on Tuesday: Carol Parker, whose mastery of body sculpture proved especially important in the agonized procession alongside the cross. Moreover, Parker’s resilient, sharply articulated footwork brightened pure-dance passages--including the duet with Baryshnikov.
As on Monday, Ron Oakland led the versatile chamber orchestra and Lubovitch’s “Waiting for the Sunrise” completed the program.