Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 5, 2023

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, "Mark Morris Dance Group: The Look of Love"

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through July 3, 2023
by Josephine Sarnelli

Photo by Christopher Duggan
The return of Mark Morris Dance Group performing “The Look of Love” offered another opportunity to experience the Ted Shawn Theatre’s orchestra pit that debuted last August. Broadway star Marcy Harriell, accompanied by a live band, celebrated the music of Burt Bacharach. Audience members could easily have been satisfied with just a concert by the ensemble and vocalist, but the choreography of Mark Morris brought so much more to Bacharach’s music.

The hour-long program explored 14 of his popular songs from the 1960’s in an all-encompassing study of relationships. It subtly introduced the subject with a non-vocal rendition of “Alfie,” perhaps so the audience can subconsciously address the lyrics in their own minds: “What’s all about. Alfie? … Are we meant to take more than we give? … Without true love we just exist ...”  

The simplicity of the staging, a few brightly colored folding chairs and pillows moved around by the dancers, kept the audience focused on what is truly important. Even the costuming was basic, with gender neutral designs and colors offering a 1960’s vibe.  

The order of the songs played a strong part in the development of Morris’ theme. The innocence of “What the World Needs Now” had couples rotating through partners, as in round-dancing with some modest lifts. Conflict was introduced in “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” As the complexity of the relationships developed through the performance, so did the choreography. 

The dancers splashing through “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” had a Gene Kelly quality, reminiscent of “Dancing in the Rain.” Hypnotic formations were created in “Walk on By” as relationships broke down and dancers never connect. As the intensity of the program progressed, the entire troupe effortlessly performed multiple tour en l’airs and lifts by both male and female dancers grew more complicated. Execution to such complex choreography was challenging to recorded music, but clearly demonstrated the skill of these performers dancing to live music.

The lighting in “The Blob” created eerie effects. This unique song also had a place in the theme of relationships, as the entire core meta morphed into one organism. The finale of “I Say a Little Prayer” had the dancers connecting more intimately with one another, as the lyrics echoed that devotion is an element of true love.       

With an evening filled with pleasant surprises, the standing ovation brought the cast, Marcy Harriell, and Mark Morris onto the stage. The Mark Morris Dance Company was a thrilling start to the 91st season of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. The Pillow invited us future audiences to return as often as possible.