As if the cadence of human movement controlled each key on the piano, the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) showed audience members what it’s like for bodies to embody music. In a fully-packed auditorium, the group of dancers twirled, pirouetted and arabesqued across the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts (PAC) stage Tuesday night.
Along with tapping feet and swaying bodies, MMDG also reeled the audience in with the crescendoes and barriolages of the live music played by a pianist and violinist.
The evening consisted of three sets: “Words,” “A Wooden Tree” and “Grand Duo,” each with its own defining elements.
“Words” was ironically wordless, that is, without lyrics. Much of the movement was left up to the audience to interpret.
“It’s like a visual experience where you decide what’s going on,” computer science senior Edgard Arroliga said. “Everything was so interpretative, it gave the viewer a lot about what to think.”
In “Grand Duo” especially, the dancers’ bodies would shake and stir, as if having a seizure, allowing the audience to experience the emotion with the performers. The live music added to the emotional connection, making both the dancers and audience more engaged with the performance.
“When the music is slower and faster, you’re hyper aware, with canned music you can relax too much,” MMDG member Laurel Lynch said in a Q&A after the show.
The live music evoked emotion, with the sounds of piano and violin hitting both the melancholy and playful notes.
“There were a lot of somber moments, loneliness, loss, all juxtaposed with happiness and running — I liked that,” Arroliga said.
To transition to a new dance, the performance employed a square blanket, carried by dancers across the stage each time a new song would play.
“The gray sheet always drew my eye in,” Arroliga said. “I’m not sure what it meant though.”
Creative aesthetics, like the gray sheet, seemed to have won over audience members during the show because of the abstract elements associated with modern dance.
“It’s beautiful to watch, but I don’t understand if they’re telling a story or it’s just beautiful,” audience member Karen Petersen said.
While some of the audience was unsure of how to interpret the performance, others who had prior dance experience viewed the evening with a more technical eye.
“From a dancer’s perspective, I can’t enjoy it as much,” Hancock College nutrition junior Caroline Cabalar said. “Some (dancers) look for technique, some look for a wider perspective. If you’ve been exposed to dance you can appreciate the styles more.”
While Cablar said she couldn’t enjoy it as much as others, she was impressed by the amount of skill exhibited by the dancers.
“Each dancer had a background of ballet — you could tell by the strong movements — and they had a lot of modern background too,” Cabalar said.
Dancers Aaron Loux and Lynch said in the Q&A after the show that they had both received their dance education from Juliard, confirming Cabalar’s observation that the dancers were well-rounded in their dance skills.
Aside from their dance abilities, the performers were also actors in a sense. During a number in “A Wooden Tree,” the dancers dressed up in old-fashioned clothing — sporting hats Oliver Twist and his friends may have worn — and plaid-checkered shirts with corduroys, portraying personalities that generated laughter in the auditorium. Specifically, audience members enjoyed that the dancers became distinguishable rather than uniform in this number.
“The second part had a little more notion of individuality,” English sophomore Rachel Carlson said. “The second was all about the different characters.”
The numbers featuring the characters were the odd-balls of the evening because the dancers moved to the narration of rather blunt lyrics, adding an element of humor.
“It was intriguing, funny and I liked the humor in them,” audience member Lynn Metcalf said.
While the evening was mostly an emotional journey, the character-based numbers provided an interruption of that journey in providing a comic relief for the audience.
Not only were the character-inspired numbers a nice break from the emotionally intense evening, but they were also a chance for the audience to identify one dancer from another.
“The first one was very pedestrian; it was so bland, and women and men had no distinction from each other,” Carlson said.
Others felt the uniformity in the costumes took away from the beauty of the dancers’ movement.
“A part of what I like about dance is the human body and I feel like the baggy shorts took away from that in the first set,” audience member Amy Steiner said.
While the human body may have been hidden under the loosely fitting clothes in the first set, the change in costumes for the next numbers hinted at the the revelation of the human experience — in the sense that each set and costume became more raw — with the final number exposing the most skin for both the women and men.
The last number struck the stage with something like a visual thunderstorm, in which the dancers competed with the piano and violin to escape the climax of a storm.
The MMDG overall showed audience members the abstractness in human emotion seen through the movement of the body, as if each sighing breath of sadness and each leap of joy were its own note on the sheet music.