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Review: Mark Morris Live(ish) Seems Almost Like Old Times

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Not quite back to how things used to be; not the return of everything, but the return of much, which sometimes feels like plenty. I could be describing my life these days, or maybe yours, but I’m talking about the Mark Morris Dance Group’s “Live From Brooklyn.”

On Thursday night, the company, celebrating its 40th anniversary, livestreamed a performance from BRIC House in Brooklyn, around the corner from the group’s headquarters. We the audience couldn’t attend in person, but the event did almost feel like being there. The dancing was live, as was a lot of the music. A new work of some substance had its premiere. (The program will be performed again on Friday at 2 p.m.)

The show was definitely still a pandemic product: dancers in masks, only piano, lots of solos and social distancing. But compared with the place-holding “video dances” that the company has been presenting over the past year, it was a great deal closer to what a fan of the Mark Morris Dance Group could recognize as the real thing.

One big improvement: a director. Barbara Willis Sweete, who has filmed adaptations of Morris’s work before, stuck for the most part to capturing the dancing unobtrusively, indulging in only a little camera movement and a few close-ups of hands on the piano.

The hands belonged to Colin Fowler, the music director, who (giving up his pandemic role of video editor) played with his customary excellence. The cutaway shots helped indicate which music was live, as did shots of stagehands moving the piano between selections. Those bits of screen time might have seemed gratuitous but I cherished them: Waiting for stagehands to finish is part of the rhythm of a live show.

Fowler accompanied the new piece, “Tempus Perfectum,” set to Brahms’s “Sixteen Waltzes.” There are four dancers, and it begins very simply with overlapping solos in a somewhat childlike style. But soon, Morris’s craftsmanship kicks in, with structural details: who does or doesn’t finish a solo by falling, for example, and the contrapuntal possibilities of four bodies.

Dallas McMurray’s first solo introduces an exciting wildness. His second includes a joke: Imaginary dirt, insouciantly tossed in the air, has to be flicked off a moment later. Two duets for McMurray and Noah Vinson deliver more formal wit in mirrorings, reflections, seesaw and pendulum action — wit warmed by being the only points in the program where people touch.

That kind of craftsmanship, closely allied to musical structure, is the Morris method. It was reassuring to see it at work again, in continuity with the program’s other, older selections. Laurel Lynch performed “Three Preludes” (Gershwin, 1992) crisply, her black mask and white gloves (and also the past year) giving the solo a sad-clown aspect. Brandon Randolph rendered “Jealousy” (Handel, 1985), a solo of tortured twisting, with admirable clarity.

The closer, a good one, was “Fugue” (Mozart, 1987), in which four dancers on chairs act out fugue form with a straight-faced strictness that’s a bit silly (on the trills, they lift their feet and shake them) and not quite sane. Near the end, they escape their chairs and run all around. We do not live in a perfect time, but “Live From Brooklyn” was good.

Live From Brooklyn

Through May 7, markmorrisdancegroup.org

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