Mozart Dances

The Civic – THE EDGE®, Auckland

22/08/2008 - 29/08/2008

Production Details

Celebrated and highly respected modern dance company Mark Morris Dance Group performs in Auckland for the first time ever with Mark Morris’ stunningly beautiful work: Mozart Dances.

Mark Morris’ work is renowned for its musicality, craftsmanship and innovation. Morris’ choreographic style and company are popular with dance aficionados through to mainstream audiences.  

Set to music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mozart Dances offers a visually stimulating, elegant, and often tender display of movement and technique. Mozart Dances is performed in three parts – Eleven, Double, and Twenty-Seven – and danced against a backdrop of visuals by artist Howard Hodgkin.

Through balletic lifts, poses, and ensemble sculptures, each dancer exudes the beauty and emotion of Mozart’s masterpieces and Morris’ skillful choreography.

"For me, the whole thing – all three dances, all nine movements – was magical." The New York Times.

Mark Morris Dance Group always performs to live music and will be joined by two distinguished pianists, Ursula Oppens and Amy Dissanayake, and conductor Jane Glover who will perform with our very own Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

"Morris, in another peak achievement of his remarkable career, transformed a simple form of dancers onstage into something wondrous, inspiring and achingly beautiful. That was the centrepiece of a magnificent night of dance, set to three Mozart pieces and performed with flowing precision and heart by the company and the musicians."
"THE TOP 10 ARTS AND CULTURE EVENTS OF 2007", San Francisco Chronicle

"Mark Morris has devised some of the finest choreography of his life, and his company dances it with surgical exactitude and tenderness…one of the greatest dance events of the new century." Voice of Dance

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Craig Biesecker    Samuel Black    Joe Bowie    Elisa Clark    Amber Darragh    Rita Donahue    Domingo Estrada, Jr.    Lauren Grant    John Heginbotham    David Leventhal    Laurel Lynch    Bradon McDonald    Dallas McMurray    Maile Okamura    Noah Vinson    Jenn Weddel    Julie Worden    Michelle Yard  

Artistic Director:  Mark Morris
Executive Director:  Nancy Umanoff


JAMES F. INGALLS, Lighting Design


Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, K. 413 (1782-83)
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Jane Glover, conductor; Ursula Oppens, piano

Allegro | Larghetto | Tempo di Menuetto

Craig Biesecker, Samuel Black, Joe Bowie, Elisa Clark, Amber Darragh, Rita Donahue, Lauren Grant, John Heginbotham, David Leventhal, Laurel Lynch, Bradon Mcdonald, Maile Okamura, Noah Vinson, Julie Worden, Michelle Yard


Mozart: Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K. 448 (1781)

Allegro con spirito | Andante | Allegro molto

Craig Biesecker, Samuel Black, Joe Bowie, Elisa Clark, Amber Darragh, Rita Donahue, Lauren Grant, John Heginbotham, David Leventhal, Laurel Lynch, Bradon Mcdonald, Dallas Mcmurray, Maile Okamura, Noah Vinson, Julie Worden, Michelle Yard


Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K.595 (1791)
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Jane Glover, conductor; Ursula Oppens, piano

Allegro | Larghetto | Allegro

Craig Biesecker, Samuel Black, Joe Bowie, Elisa Clark, Amber Darragh, Rita Donahue, Lauren Grant, John Heginbotham, David Leventhal, Bradon Mcdonald, Dallas Mcmurray, Maile Okamura, Noah Vinson, Jenn Weddel, Julie Worden, Michelle Yard 

Splendid fusion of dance and music

Review by Ann Hunt 31st Aug 2008

In one of two excellent quotes noted in the programme by Robbie Macrae, Director, Performing Arts at The Edge, he writes: "…you have to ask yourself the question is ‘Dances’ (in this context) a noun or a verb?" And indeed we do ask ourselves this question and the answer is that Mozart Dances is brilliantly both.

The work is danced entirely to Mozart music and we appear to ‘hear the music with our eyes.’ It is as if Morris’s choreography has made the music visible, so perfectly do they fit.  The deceptive simplicity and absolute rightness of the dance configurations makes a great deal of contemporary dance seem overwrought and under conceived.

The work is comprised of three dances. The first and third are named after the Mozart music to which they were choreographed, i.e. ‘Eleven’ to Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major and ‘Twenty-seven’ to Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major. The second is ‘Double’ to Sonata in D major for Two Pianos.

Each dance was performed in front of a different abstract backdrop. Vast and spare they changed with the light and were a perfect background to the choreography. The latter is akin to contemporary abstract painting in its particular and sophisticated use of spacial dynamics. Morris frequently creates harmonious spatial groupings, only to suddenly ‘corrupt’ or break the patterns by one or two dancers pairing off in odd directions, or a perfect first position of the arms will be broken by a sudden flick of the wrist.

This ‘corrupted’ use of otherwise perfect spatial alignment was tremendously exciting and effectively abolished any predictability within the choreography. There are also references to his interest in folk dance with circular and weaving patterns.  But what struck one most was the courtliness of the work. Hints at early dance drifted though the choreography and you could see both aristocrats and peasants of the 16-18 centuries.

He incorporates sudden changes of tempo and shifts in direction often accompanied by off-kilter balances that would challenge any dancer. However, it is so well danced that it appears simple. But for choreography to work as brilliantly and effortlessly as this did, it requires dancers of great accomplishment. The Mark Morris Dance Group has these in abundance.  Both the men and the women have a delicacy and strength which is very unusual and most appealing.

Although ensemble work is paramount here, two dancers, Lauren Grant and Jo Bowie, do feature as soloists.  They are both exceptional. Grant is a petite blonde dynamo, possessing great speed and exact placement, and fizzing with fluid energy. Bowie is more lyrical, with a lovely lifted upper body and whose arms seem to hold the music within them. 

The musicality of all the dancers is one of the Group’s many strengths. The movement seems to flow right through their bodies, even when they are standing still. There are no static poses here and they are certainly not just "dancing the steps." All possess an intense focus which lends the work a gravitas that could so easily be absent if performed by lesser artists.

Because of its great beauty and ease of execution, on the surface it would be easy to see this work as something light and airy and without much depth.  But this would be insulting Morris’s (and the dancers’) intelligence. Like all great works of art, Mozart Dances can be viewed in many different ways and what you get out of it is up to you. On one level it speaks directly to the heart. On another there seems to be a deeper significance at work, one that speaks of loss and permanence: the loss of youth and the permanence of death.  It is also surely how we want our lives to be: equal in our relationships, unified in our goals and unriven by ugliness and conflict.  

The music throughout was excellently played by the Auckland Philharmonia under conductor Jane Glover and by visiting pianists, Ursula Oppens and Amy Briggs Dissanayake, whose delicate finesse was a huge bonus to this splendid fusion of dance and music.


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US dancers provide a mesmerising spectacle

Review by Bernadette Rae 25th Aug 2008

Mark Morris is the acknowledged master of melding movement and music. When the music is Mozart there is no great passion or fire involved, the magic coming instead from an almost courtly embodiment of every possible nuance of every musical phrase.

It is a mesmerising spectacle, like being lost in a kaleidoscope of choreography that turns to Mozart’s own bidding. [More]


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Wonderful artistry performed with great naturalness

Review by Jan Bolwell 24th Aug 2008

Dancing to the music of Mozart is not a task to be undertaken lightly. Some might say it should not be undertaken at all, a travesty best not witnessed. Isadora Duncan felt no such constraints when she created dances to the music of the ‘greats’- Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and Mozart. (The conductor at one of her Carnegie Hall concerts felt compelled to warn members of the audience to leave if they were likely to be upset by such a spectacle).

Today, a century later, few choreographers have felt up to the challenge. Balanchine, the twentieth century’s pre-eminent ballet choreographer was renowned for his musical intelligence, yet he rarely turned to Mozart.

Mark Morris, lauded also for the musicality of his choreography, has waited until his early fifties before attempting the feat.  In a 1988 interview Morris said that while he adored and worshipped Mozart, he felt that his music was too fragile and sophisticated for dancing. He obviously believes he has now sufficient wisdom and experience to try his hand.

Morris has helped himself immeasurably by selecting less well known Mozart piano works – the Concerto No.11 in F (K.413), the Sonata in D for Two Pianos (K.448) and the Concerto No 27 in B flat (K.595). With nine movements, three in each work, Morris has been intent on finding a unifying choreographic language to blend the evening of dance together. This he does by choosing a series of strong, often eccentric movement motifs which keep recurring in all three works.

Eleven to Concerto No.11 in F begins with the sixteen dancers lined up against designer Howard Hodgkins sparse abstract painting which looks as if a giant paint brush has been swept across the cyclorama. They stride purposefully towards the audience and the dance begins. The men soon leave the stage and we are left with the women, elegantly costumed in grey dresses with semi corseted tops referencing eighteenth century fashion.

Critics constantly accuse Mark Morris of ‘step-for note’ choreography, of too slavishly and literally following the musical score. In Eleven he does not shy away from such literalness by giving a solo part to the petite and hugely accomplished Lauren Grant who interprets the piano themes. She skitters amongst tall, bony women as if trying to find the pathway, constantly alert and seeking.

This work for women is fascinating not only because of the varied physicality of the dancers but also because of the idiosyncratic movement motifs that Morris lays on them; angular movements of the arms and torso, and strange shoulder distortions which are played out in standing positions and on the floor with multiple views of the motif. It’s as if Morris is deliberately playing against the lyricism of the score.

The work is full of surprises. Just as we are being swept along rhythmically by expansive sweeping turns with heads upturned, suddenly the dancers are grounded hitting the floor in poses of sharp angularity. These women are Amazonian, moving with strength and grace, phalanx-like, across the space.

In Double to Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, it is the turn of the men. (The women make a fleeting presence only). The opening sequence by MMDC veteran Joe Bowie is riveting. The charismatic Bowie, bare-chested and dressed in a tail coat jacket, sets the scene with a series of beautifully placed and timed poses as he references the eighteenth century dance style with finesse and considerable wit. In a sense he controls the dance of the men that follows.

The men, dressed in breeches and flimsy light gray tops are a revelation. It is rare to witness such lyricism in male dancing, and Morris’s dancers have it in abundance. Holding hands in an exquisitely executed floating circle that travels back and forth across the stage, the atmosphere of community is palpable. These works show Morris playing with deliberate role reversal with the women staunch and the men gentle.  

The final work brings together the men and the women in Twenty-Seven to Piano Concerto No.27. Dressed in white costumes which are elegantly unobtrusive, this is a joyous work in which the company flies across the stage making a myriad of beautifully timed and executed entrances and exits, while often revisiting motifs from the previous two works. However, the ending of Twenty-Seven is weak, as if after an evening of marvellous invention, Morris has finally run out of steam.

It has been said that the Mark Morris dancers are ‘devoid of artifice’. It is true. They perform with a great naturalness which endears them to their audience and is one of the reasons this company is so popular around the world. 

MMDC always performs to live music. On this occasion the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra play for the Company under the baton of Jane Glover with guest pianists from America, Ursula Oppens and Amy Dissanayake. The subtleties of Mozart’s music are beautifully rendered, in satisfying empathy with the wonderful artistry being witnessed on the stage.  


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Imagination at play

Review by 23rd Aug 2008

There are currently (according to latest figures from DANZ), 90,000 young people learning dance in studios around our country. I hope that every single one of those budding hopefuls (if that is what they are!) get to see Mark Morris Dance Group. Morris’ work, Mozart Dances, set to three distinctive scores, has been described by the New York Times as a masterpiece – a triumph. Without wanting to jump too audaciously on this salubrious bandwagon, I would have to agree.

So yep / no (as we say in New Zealand), it was great. Every single dance person I know attended, and all their students, and all their Mums and aunts. What was it we came for? Morris’s choreography is essentially modernist; within its scope somewhat classicist, elementally narcissist and uneasily situated between the effeminism of male beauty and the structural glory of the female body. Three sets of dance provoked elements of art on all levels, no more potently delivered by the delicious depiction of the three musical choices; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, Sonata in D major for Two Pianos and Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major.

Music that escaped from the musicians’ touch on their instruments, and spread across every surface and gap in Auckland’s Civic theatre, was captured in the intense, sophisticated (wo)-man oeuvres of the eighteen dancers. It would be impossible to ignore the music, both the sound and the playing. I wanted those pianos (and the orchestra) visible. I wanted to see if I could see the very moment the notes collided with the dancing bodies. In this way, American concert pianists, Ursula Oppens, Amy Dissanayake and an empathetic Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra had been given glorious creative space, beyond the guidance of the conductor, Jane Glover.

Similarly I wanted the dancer’s legs visible. Costume choices, albeit fitting with the inherent flow ands design of modernist/classicist reference, gave the leggy individuality of the dancers less shape. In a recent dance article, written by our own Michael Parmenter, a comment about the negation of movement and resultant reduction of action on stage evoked a comparison. In Morris’ choreography stillness became the perfect collision between sound and body. As with much dance, moments of stillness offset the expectation that dance is all about movement. Soloist, Lauren Grant, in the first set, Eleven, was so precise in physically rendering sound, it was disruptive to have her skirt come after her.

Other dancers in this group, who promoted an acute sense that this evening’s work was about human expression at its very best were; Amber Darragh, Bradon Mc Donald, Elisa Clark, Julie Worden, Samuel Black and the more rarely noticed but exquisitely memorable moments of Craig Biesecker. It is not that the others didn’t, its just that I kept looking for danced moments made more pleasurable by their presence. The lovely entrances and exits highlighted a masterly choreographic skill, as did witty, wry humour, written in and underscored by the dancer’s obvious acceptance of the communicability of their dancing.

Mark Morris Dance Group is about dancing. It’s not about the style or the genre of dancing; even less about the era. It’s about why people go to dance. To remove them from the placidity of daily life and to etch imagination at play sharply back into reality dulled psyches.

I hope all dance students in New Zealand get a chance to experience this – if not directly – at least through an unraveling influence and experience of those that were able to make it. Thank you Mark Morris, dancers and musicians.

Perhaps all students of music and art should go along as well as those who dance. Last time I heard, that means all students in New Zealand!


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