Dance aficionados crowded the Kennedy Center Tuesday night to cheer Mark Morris, the choreographer once labeled "Peck's bad boy of dance."
There is indeed a Puckish humor and warmth permeating the dances of Mr. Morris, whose Monnaie Dance Group from the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels opened a six-day engagement in Washington this week.
The dances are filled with in-jokes, classical allusions and dance tricks. Yet they also tell of an intelligence not bound by style, form or technique. They are like fine-tuned clocks ticking off musical rhythms with a thoughtful, incisive precision.
The program opened with "Canonic 3/4 Studies," to a pastiche of piano waltzes. The nine dancers simply repeated often silly actions in varying rhythms: charging each other, falling, crawling, prancing to and fro like demented ballerinas, throwing up their hands and presenting a dizzy merry-go-round of lifts that brought titters of laughter from the audience. It only looked simple.
Mr. Morris lacks the stone soberness of many modern choreographers. In his enigmatic "Pas De Poisson," performed by Mr. Morris, Penny Hutchinson and Jon Mensinger, the trio ran through a series of leaps, chases and lifts that reminded me of cartoon activity.
"Going Away Party" was pure Southwest, from the songs by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys to the slice of life dating dramas where partners were sought, captured and exchanged before disappearing. Here Mr. Morris charged the lyrics of the accompanying songs with visual aids. When the Playboys sang, "My arms keep reaching for you," the dancers grasped the thin air between each others' bodies.
In "Baby, That Sure Would Be Good," three couples presented low-key gestural metaphors that were highly charged with innuendo. "Going Away Party" is filled with games between the sexes, all wittily and knowingly presented.
It was the closing work, "Love Song Waltzes," with images of yearning and fulfillment, that was most satisfying. Brahms' music was the impetus for the dancers to meet, pass by, and waltz with each other. From introspection to exultation, the images and dance rebounded with a life of their own.