Mark Morris Premieres a Dance More Major Than ‘Minor’

Tuesday’s program closed with a robust dance from Morris’s earliest days: “Castor and Pollux” (1980), staged by Tina Fehlandt, a founding member of the company, and set to a score by the experimental composer Harry Partch, whose handmade instruments create a curious percussive world. Morris has always been open to unusual sounds and fell in love with Partch as a teenager, when “Castor and Pollux” was included as a bonus record on an album he bought. “The sound of his music, played on homemade instruments — gongs and plucked strings — made perfect sense to me,” Morris writes in his memoir.

The sight of eight dancers twisting and hopping through Morris’s winding circles makes perfect sense today, too. “Castor and Pollux” is ferocious, raw yet precise and in possession of an unquenchable wildness. The dreamlike Karlie Budge, who gives off an otherworldly aura here and elsewhere this Morris season, opens the dance with grounded feet and thighs. As she rounds her arms, she uses the weight of her body to absorb the floor and, in turn, create buoyancy.

As the others join in, there is a floppy spring to how the choreography guides them backward and forward; their feet, neither pointed nor flexed, produce rhythms and changes of directions in turns within larger moving circles. In the final, breathtaking pose — after the dancers run with zeal, twisting to the floor and popping back up — they stand, planting their feet wide apart like warriors. You can see there the skeleton of Morris’s “Grand Duo.” To have been able to watch them back to back would have been heaven.

The program started out more sleepily, with the stage premiere of “Tempus Perfectum,” set to Brahms’s 16 Waltzes (Op. 39) and created for a pandemic-era livestream in 2021. Now this was a minor dance, with echoes of social distancing in its spacing and repetition; the dancers, copping a childlike quality, brought an atmosphere more sentimental than innocent.

Both Joyce programs, no matter their rewards, included one dance too many — which, for all the live music, a Morris mandate, and articulate dancing, revealed a choreographic sameness. Two of the run’s most distinct works were set to recorded music; in the Partch, it couldn’t be helped, and the same was true of “A Wooden Tree,” an odd and winning work accompanied by the words and music of Ivor Cutler, the Scottish composer, humorist and poet.

In that work’s 14 songs, Morris weaves his gestural, nuanced choreography into the narrative with a sleek deftness that embellishes the humor of the lyrics without coming on too strong. It could become overly silly, but he plays it straight, pulling out of both the music and the dance something that can be elusive in performance: whimsy. He trusts the body to tell the stories, and there is nothing wooden about it.

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