Dallas McMurray leads "Message to Michael" in Mark Morris Dance Group's "The Look of Love," a love letter to Burt Bacharach. (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
Burt Bacharach fans must make their way to Jacob’s Pillow this week for the Mark Morris Dance Group’s colorful and quite literal tribute to the composer's songbook.
I don’t think it’s Morris’ best work, but “The Look of Love” elevates Bacharach's wonderful music in a love letter to the pop composer whose prolific skills defined love songs for a generation of Americans.
Moreover, it unleashes Morris's playful side. This most musical of choreographers stands fully in not just the song's rhythms, as one would expect, but also in its lyrics, mirroring every word.
The piece features 14 songs including the title song along with “Always Something There to Remind You,” “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “I Say a Little Prayer” as sung soulfully live by Marcy Harriel who was accompanied by backup vocals, piano, trumpet, bass and drums.
Watching the dance for 10 sends one back to the late 1960s. It starts with a quiet piano rendering of “Alfie” before the curtain opens to five folding chairs that reflected the flamboyant colors of the costumes – yellow, orange and pink, with splashes of purple, red and green. The chairs, with matching, movable cushions, become part of this swirling cauldron in which dancers animate the songs by miming falling tears, breaking hearts, prayerful pleads and pouring rain.
The dancers begin with a circle dance to “What the World Needs Now,” an anthem and antidote to societal troubles. With the dancers holding hands and rotating as one inside the circle of chairs, there is a sense that all could be well.
Each song was a jewel that Morris dancers honored. “Message to Michael,” led by Dallas McMurray as a priest like figure, sent a prayer to a beloved faraway friend. “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” bustled like a city street and “Walk on By” criss-crossed with dancers walking – simply walking – in a beautiful kaleidoscope of intersecting lines.
The surprise was the music from movie “The Blob.” With dancers in silhouette their shadows stalked to the edge of the stage with clawed hands – one to reveal – when the lights came up that the fear was imaginary.
The title song wrought the most emotion with a couple, Karlie Budge and Noah Vinson, in a push-pull to surrender to their tender feelings that ending in a loving embrace.
This is a dance for the masses that celebrates the songs and doesn’t force one to overthink what’s happening on the stage. There is no need to ponder, just enjoy and hum along.