Socrates on the Dance Stage

Posted on February 25th, 2010 by

The story of Socrates is a component of choreographer Mark Morris’ latest dance program.

Socrates,” though not simple, is simply beautiful: the most sensuously attractive new choreography that I have seen by Mr. Morris in more than 10 years. The work is set to Erik Satie’s cantata “Socrate.” (Mr. Morris made an earlier dance treatment of that score in 1983, though he did not keep it in repertory long.) Its movement idiom is one of deliberate neo-Classicism — in the first of the three sections, the dancers keep crossing the stage right to left, largely in flattened profile, like a Grecian bas-relief passing before our eyes — that seems to melt in later sections into its own, less obviously antique but more three-dimensional Classicism.

This progression of style and mood is just right for Satie’s score. First performed privately in 1918, it takes excerpts from three of Plato’s Dialogues (in the French translation by Victor Cousin), ending with an account of Socrates’ death. …Mr. Morris’s way of telling the Socrates story is to deconstruct it by multiplying it. Most of the time here there’s more than one thing going on simultaneously. One of the most striking passages has a group in the foreground against a white backdrop and another, doing different movement, against a black backdrop. There’s no single Socrates here: as the voice describes his taking hemlock and dying, we see his actions played out by two or three dancers at the same time, or on occasion by 10 or 15 in succession. And so Socrates’ very particular story moves on to become a story that’s experienced by others — by, indeed, the world.

h/t Sean


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