Mark Morris’ Dido and Aeneas at Zellerbach, September 18, 2011

22 Sep

If I were permitted just one word to describe the Morris take on Henry Purcell’s opera, I would say “sublime.”

Morris, collaborating with the splendid Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, interpreted the late seventeenth century Baroque opera with an austere stage production, rendering the mythological destiny of two royal creatures in stark but glorious relief.  Robert Bardo has worked on set designs frequently with Morris as James F. Ingalls with lighting; this particular  venture  premiered in 1989 at the Theatre Royal de La Monnaie, Theatre Varia, Brussels, Belgium.

Morris has yielded the dual role of Dido/Sorceress to  Amber Star Merkens, proportioned like a winning track star. Guillermo Bravo has been replaced by Domingo Estrada, Jr.; he appears to have an ongoing relationship with weight-lifting.  Morris has moved to the orchestra pit where he surveyed musicians and dancers with a steady grasp on the conductor’s baton.

Christine Van Loon garbed the company in modest black, the design adapting itself from skirt to trouser when warranted. It accented the frequent use of profile movement, torso at three-quarters, head in profile  reinforcing the antique quality, further emphasized by the straightly held hands, thumbs out, whether at hip length or at the waist. As the women moved, one thought  Tanagra and the men from scenes on Attic amphorae.  Even when moving face forward such reticence was dominant. One felt transported to the shores of the Mediterranean some three thousand years ago as Merkens’ Dido debated lovemaking with Aeneas.

Having seen Morris in 2000 as Dido, there was the fascinating task of measuring choreography to interpreter; Merkens filled the postures with ease and authority though the dimensions of the gestures still bore the phantom size of Morris. In arm movements like semaphores held shoulder high and then flipped down, the square dimensions unerring in their evocation of antiquity, the ghost of Morris flitted briefly before being vanquished by Merkens’ athletic sureness and ease.

With her jaunty assignment as one of Aeneas’ sailors, Lauren Grant danced hints of the horn pipe and Irish clogging with a swagger in her torso, an inflection of the shoulders, a glint of eye as her feet illuminated the passage.

Maile Okamura as Dido’s sister Belinda danced impressively, her size providing a songbird quality of  hope and happiness, in a fated setting. After the chorus had melted one by one, behind the central curtain back of low railing where most of the action was set, Belinda alone remained. Her final movement, coming to droop sorrowfully over the prone Dido down stage left, remains etched in my mind’.

When the curtain closed, the satisfaction was so complete I couldn’t move, didn’t want to nor speak;  the audience response around me exploded, none
more vociferously than acknowledging Morris, arms outspread, at the conductor’s podium.

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