Boston's ongoing relationship with choreographer Mark Morris makes the city a magnet for dance lovers each year, particularly when a world premiere is on the program.
Morris's newest work, "Somebody's Coming to See Me Tonight" contains all the elements of his best work: movement beautifully matched to music, a sense of rightness about the place and history evoked, and a feeling of progression throughout the dance.
The premiere was commissioned in part by Dance Umbrella, the local producing organization that has provided a yearly spring home for Morris and his company. The high quality of "Somebody's Coming" is a reminder that dancers and artists flourish in an environment that supports their physical and artistic needs.
Morris's commitment to music performed live continues. In the two programs he brought to Boston, luxurious music was provided by instrumentalists and singers from Emmanuel Music, an enormously successful Boston-based group. For "Somebody's Coming," soloists Jayne West and Stephen Salters, backed by the chorus, performed nine Stephen Foster songs with great sweetness and fluidity, especially the tender "Beautiful Dreamer."
The dancers' costumes (by Susan Ruddie) set a mood of nostalgia and romance - the women in flowing high-necked dresses, and the men in high-waisted pants and poets' shirts, evoking the Civil War era. But Morris keeps the choreography from veering into sentimentality. In fact, the men's exuberant leaps called to mind the frontier musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."
On the first night of its presentation, some rough edges were visible in "Somebody's Coming." Several dancers did not seem totally comfortable. Lifts were less than graceful. One of Morris's choreographic choices - which involved the women being dragged with their thighs scraping the floor - looked awkward.
The ensemble choreography, at which Morris excels, was strongly danced, however. Folk-dance steps and partnering lent unity to "Somebody's Coming," with its recurring images of leave-taking and civic celebration.
Another dance, new to Boston-area audiences and a highlight in Program A, was "The Office." Performed to Anton Dvorak's "Five Bagatelles for String Trio and Harmonium," the piece confronts the tedium and boredom of an office waiting room.
Six dancers in dowdy clothes sit restlessly, anticipating their summons. They seem to be powerless against a monolithic bureaucracy. But little by little, they attempt a few steps, joining together in a giant, frenzied fling around the room. The piece could be viewed as a metaphor for the individual triumphing over the institution, or a call to transform a sterile environment on one's own terms. Either way, "The Office" is a dance packed with meaning.
r Mark Morris Dance Group performs two more shows at the Emerson Majestic Theatre tomorrow at 2 and 8 p.m. It will appear at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland in August.
'MOSAIC AND UNITED': One of the choreographer's more abstract and distancing works, 'Mosaic and United' is performed to music for string quartet by Henry Cowell. Its Svengali-like mood is darkly mysterious.