The Mark Morris Dance Group performed at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall this weekend in The Look of Love, an hour-long dance set to the music of Burt Bacharach. The show was unexpectedly moving on many levels.
Bacharach's music was ubiquitous during the 1960s and 1970s and I was always a bit contemptuous of it as a young thing, preferring rock and classical to the slick pop music of the time. The choreographer Mark Morris and the jazz genius Ethan Iverson felt differently, however, and after hearing their collaboration with The Look of Love, I am now a Burt Bacharach convert and will never listen to his music in the same way again.
Iverson, who used to play with the experimental jazz trio The Bad Plus, arranged 14 Bacharach songs, including a novelty number written for the 1950s horror film The Blob, and composed some seamless connecting material for the dance suite. The arrangements hewed close to the originals with enough interesting alterations to keep them fresh. They were written for a brilliant musical ensemble, which included Iverson himself on piano joined by Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Simon Willson on bass, Vinnie Sperrazza on drums, and Marcy Harriell on vocals.
Harriell has a perfect voice for this music, cool and crystalline like Dionne Warwick, and able to effortlessly manage Bacharach's complex time signature changes and Hal David's narrative lyrics. She was supported by two backup singers, Clinton Curtis and Blaire Reinhard, who added immeasurably to the sophisticated pleasures of the arrangements.
The ten dancers, outfitted in psychedelic, non-binary outfits from Isaac Mizrahi, were a lovely bunch. Morris's choreography steered away from the temptations of cutesy and camp while offering respect to the yearning, often downbeat love narratives of the songs such as I'll Never Fall In Love Again and Walk On By.
One dancer in the current Mark Morris Dance Group stood out for me, Domingo Estrada Jr. (above), and not just for the 1970s porn stache. He made all the shimmying dances and movement look effortless, rather like Bacharach's deceptively difficult songs themselves.
Before the show, Mark Morris came onstage with the announcement, "Thank Goddess we're back." Cal Performances has been presenting the Mark Morris Dance Group for decades, and were one of the many sponsors of this show. Morris looked like he had come back home.