Moving Toward the Light
By Susan Reiter
Dance has been part of the White Light Festival programming since the inaugural season in 2010.
The dance offerings are distinctive, resonant, and carefully chosen to exemplify the primary focus of White Light, “a capacity to illuminate the many dimensions of our interior lives,” according to Jane Moss, Lincoln Center’s Ehrenkranz Artistic Director.
For the 2013 Festival, Moss has selected works by two of the most highly regarded and internationally acclaimed choreographers working today. Akram Khan, the London-based choreographer/dancer of Bangladeshi parentage performs his acclaimed solo DESH, a deeply personal exploration of his relationship with his father and Bangladeshi culture. Closing the Festival is Mark Morris’ beloved L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato—his luminous, expansive 1988 dance set to Handel’s glorious oratorio.
“DESH is a very autobiographical work. It is a deeply intimate piece for Khan,” Moss explains. As Khan revealed in another interview for Lincoln Center, “I wanted to confront my upbringing, the tension between my father and me, because every negative and positive thing that happens in your childhood makes you who you are today.”
Morris’ L’Allegro, in contrast, is a wide-open, celebratory embrace. Moss, who has presented the work as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival, said, “There is such joy. The text— Charles Jennens’ arrangements of John Milton’s two poems—has overtly spiritual themes. But the quality that makes it perfect for White Light is the idea of pure joy, which is what it leaves audiences feeling.” For these performances, Nicolas McGegan will conduct the MMDG Music Ensemble, four vocal soloists, and the Riverside Choral Society Chamber Singers.
Both works fulfill another of Moss’ objectives for the White Light Festival, which she describes as “an organic mash-up of different cultural traditions, different styles, different disciplines.”
L’Allegro has been performed by Morris’ company nearly every year, and all over the world, since its Brussels premiere 25 years ago. It was the first work he made when he became the dance director at the Théâtre de la Monnaie. It is a remarkable and enduring work by a young choreographer just arriving at his maturity. In a happy coincidence, the last of the three L’Allegro performances at the Rose Theater, on November 23, will take place exactly 25 years after the day of the work’s premiere.
Michelle Yard, who has danced with the Mark Morris Dance Group for 15 years and has performed in L’Allegro since her apprentice days, recalls being struck by its sheer beauty when she first began watching and learning it. She describes the work as “a beautiful synergy of music, movement, costume, and scenery that all come together. No matter how you walk into the theater, you leave renewed and thinking, and feeling like, tomorrow will be better.”
Khan, whose Vertical Road was performed by his company at last year’s Festival, spoke about another aspect of DESH—Bengali for “homeland”—on Australian TV late last year when he performed the solo at the Melbourne Festival. “DESH is a piece about generations. It’s specifically about Bangladesh, but un-specifically, it’s kind of universal—to a degree where it’s very much about people who are searching for their home—and we always want to know where our home is.”
DESH features intricate scenic components by Tim Yip, who was the production designer for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Memory and childhood are a major focus of this solo, and Yip’s designs allow Khan to encounter the world form a child’s perspective in certain scenes. Khan explained, “He created the entire scenography and the costumes. And one thing that he brought which was significant to the work was the sense of scale, and the sense of very small detail, in an epic proportion.”
Khan’s work may have sprung from an inward-looking focus, while Morris’ is propelled outward, but both touch a chord of universality and invite audiences to connect and reflect.
Susan Reiter is a freelance performing arts journalist whose articles have appeared in the
Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Dance Magazine, and other publications.
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