The Mark Morris Dance Group performing ‘Mozart Dances’ © Stephanie Berger

The few choreographers who dare to approach Mozart do not usually get too close. They take him at second-hand, nodding to the pomp and powdered wigs or to the music’s vaunted elegance, sweetness, sadness, sublimity. The musically driven Mark Morris, on the other hand, seems to have climbed inside the piano.

Commissioned by Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival in 2006, Mozart Dances returns from nearly a decade’s hiatus. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson does plain-spoken honours for Concertos 11 and 27, and, joined by Inon Barnaton, the two-piano Sonata in D.

The three linked dances catch the spirit of Mozart’s myriad gestures — whether teasing, naughty, ingratiating, bored or swaggering — as well as the woozy beauty of the piano flurries, and those sudden drops in temperature at the swell of the orchestra that chill the soul. But more crucially and more rare, this fully engrossing, classically restrained two-hour work brings out the transitions between ditty and soaring harmony: the liminal states that too often in Mozart, as in life, are overlooked.

The choreographer has long been richly gestural, but this time at every musical tada he freezes the gesture: the finger raised to make a point, the traffic-cop semaphoring, the women’s scything arms. However striking the image, though, another and another will follow until the tension is at breaking point. For those sudden Mozartian depths, the dancers relinquish themselves to easeful momentum. They spin dervish-like, for example, arms flung wide and head wobbling giddily on the neck.

Mozart Dances possesses cartoonish jollity, lyrical communal feeling, much striding purposely about with arms swinging, and a late instance of full-bodied romance that ends with couples forming a single spear from their two raised arms and staring jubilantly into each other’s eyes. But when Mozart transcends the social world, the dancers pause and look down and away as if to say, “The rest is silence.”

Morris has always seemed the most forthright of choreographers. But beside the prodigious composer, he has grown pensive. Mozart Dances is full of quiet and the unresolved.

Photograph: Stephanie Berger

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