Mark Morris Dance Group performs the delightful three-section “Mozart Dances” in UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. (Courtesy Stephanie Berger)

Mark Morris Dance Group delights in ‘Mozart Dances’

Berkeley Symphony led by Colin Fowler, pianist Inon Barnatan play beautiful music

Watching Mark Morris Dance Group’s “Mozart Dances” – onstage at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall in Cal Performances’ opening season event – feels like being a welcomed guest at party thrown by good old friends and loving relations.

Joyful from start to finish, the concert, which opened Friday night (with additional residency programs including a Mozart listening session late afternoon Saturday and a community dance class on Sunday morning), offers three delightful dances, impeccably set to works by classical music’s most versatile, enduring composer.

Morris, revered by dance fans as today’s most musical choreographer, creates precise yet languid movement and pleasing patterns that flow like a meaningful conversation between the performers and orchestra. The presentation is beautiful and profound – and fun, too.

Morris, who gave “Mozart Dances” its West Coast premiere in Cal Performances’ 2007-08 season, couldn’t likely pull off this package without excellent collaborators.

Live performances by the Berkeley Symphony, conducted by pianist Colin Fowler, and pianist Inon Barnatan, are as essential to the piece as are charming, technically astute, in synch dancers, an eye-catching group of contrasting shapes and sizes. An abstract painting of two big dark smudges on a light background provided a pleasingly complementary backdrop.

“Eleven,” the show’s first section, set to Mozart’s early Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, K. 413, featured eight women in flowing back dresses and MMDG veteran Lauren Grant (a diminutive 4-feet, 11 inches tall) displaying attitude and virtuosity, filling the stage in extended solos.

“Double,” the second piece, set to Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K. 448, showcased eight men in knee britches in a series of fluid movements, often circular, at times reminiscent of an elaborate folk dance, with standout soloist Aaron Loux swirling in a frock-coat.

The entire company and crew of musicians joined for the final movement, “Twenty Seven,” set to Mozart’s final piano concerto, No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595. A summation and expansion of the previous sections, the dance boasted brief and lovely partnering and plentiful solo moments in the spotlight for many dancers; the troupe included apprentices, whose status was undetectable. Wearing billowing white costumes, the dancers accomplished the impossible, managing to float on air and be grounded in the earth at the same time.

A video of the soul-satisfying “Mozart Dances” ought to be put in an online dictionary to define the term “dance.”

REVIEW

Mark Morris Dance Group

Presented by Cal Performances

Where: Zellerbach Hall, near Dana Street and Bancroft Way, UC Berkeley campus

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 21, 3 p.m. Sept. 22

Tickets: $42 to $148

Contact: (510) 642-9988, calperformances.org

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