Tanglewood: Fusion of dance and live music

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LENOX -- In the best of all possible worlds, dance and live music are inseparable companions, an ideal that has become a tradition at Tanglewood, where every summer about this time the Mark Morris Dance Group fuses its considerable talents with those of the newly-arrived fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center.

And, as a bonus on Tuesday evening (and repeated Wednesday) in Seiji Ozawa Hall, the Morris dancers also enjoyed the good company of an old friend, Yo-Yo Ma.

The genial and gifted cellist was on hand for an encore performance of Morris' popular "Falling Down Stairs," an original collaboration between Ma and Morris explored here in 2003, the first year the festival welcomed the choreographer.

An evening highlight was the world premiere of Morris' interpretation of "Renard," Igor Stravinsky's one-act chamber opera-ballet, choreographed in part on a commission by the Tanglewood Music Center and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Two more dances, "Frisson" (1995) and "Italian Concerto" (2007), completed the evening.

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Written in 1916, and based on old Russian folk tales, "Renard" is a brief barnyard saga about a deceitful fox, the title character, who tricks and captures a strutting Cock twice but is foiled by the cock's allies, the cat and the ram -- in this production a Goat.

Case Scaglione, a TMC conducting fellow stepping in for Stefan Asbury, displayed solid command of the newly formed chamber orchestra of woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings, and four singers -- tenors Zach Finkelstein and Andrew Penning, baritone John Buffett and bass David Salsbery Fry -- provided muscular harmony.

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Danced in shoes, the movement leaned toward ballet-lite, as these minimalist anthropomorphic creatures skittered around, behind and atop a movable picket fence.

"Falling Down Stairs," as it did eight years ago, provided conclusive evidence of the magic in dance performed with live musicians -- the synergy was palpable once more as Ma became one with the dancers, he focusing on them, they on him as he traversed the six movements of the Bach Suite No. 3 in C for Unaccompanied Cello.

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Beginning with the dancers veritably rolling off the seven-step staircase as Ma bowed the emotional Prelude, those 15 dancers moved in various groupings, complementing lovely legato arches of melodies with fluid full-body motions, faster tempos in deft sudden turns of arms and hands, pirouetting on rich cello trills; altogether fresh and spirited. Sections concluded in stunning tableaux enhanced by Michael Chybowski's lighting scheme. In the striking conclusion of the gigue, a woman dived from the top of the stairs into the outstretched arms of her 14 receptive fellow dancers.

Five dancers -- three women, two men -- brought athleticism in right angles of arm, hand and leg gestures, sometimes in haughty defiance of gravity, to "Frisson," with a sizable ensemble of fellows, led by Scaglione, delivering a bright account of Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments.

The crispness of the Steinway in the custody of Marnie Hauschildt, a talented fellow, seemed especially suited to Morris' dance, "Italian Concerto," set to J.S. Bach.

Dallas McMurray, in his solo turn during the andante, began with his hand over his heart, occasionally reached for a single note with an outstretched hand and mimicked the pianist's hands, with special grace. Morris so skillfully choreographed the bracing presto tendered by Hauschildt's dazzling keyboard work, that the five dancers in the piece dwelled completely within the score, emerging with elegance while maintaining its pace.


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