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By Chelsey Philpot

Mark Morris dancers make it look so easy. From the flick of a wrist to the simultaneous jumps and right down to the curling and uncurling of toes, the Mark Morris Dance Group is defined by precision. It is easy to imagine the company training for performances as soldiers train in boot camp: the dancers all lined up in a row, Morris pacing before them, barking out the steps and blowing a whistle should a dancer’s posture be anything less than ninety degrees from the floor.

But regardless of how the dancers learn their steps, the Mark Morris Dance Group delighted a packed audience on the opening night of their latest Boston tour. The Celebrity Series of Boston, which has had a relationship with Mark Morris for a decade, presented the evening’s performances, three pieces from the group’s repertoire: “Bedtime,” “All Fours” and “V.” Each number was at times jaw dropping, at others innovative, but at many points left the audience wanting more.

“Bedtime,” performed to music by Franz Schubert, is dignified and restrained. As mezzo-soprano Katherine Growdon sings, the dancers pattered across the stage like mice in the kitchen once the lights have been turned off. As a group, Morris dancers can create shapes and use space with such control that it seemed they are more a platoon than a dance troupe. While their utilization of the stage is amazing to watch and undoubtedly difficult to choreograph, the austere technique created an itch to see a dancer break apart, to leap exuberantly and erupt away from the group.

In “Bedtime,” some dancers wore blue pants and shirts with sparkles that cloaked their bodies and made them look more like nurses with scrubs than costumed dancer. The baggy outfits detracted from more delicate movements; when a dancer was lifted into the air and held still as if frozen, the angles of her pointed pose were lost beneath fabric.

“All Fours” and “V” are energetic pieces. “All Fours” hinted - without being flashy - what Mark Morris dancers are capable of while “V” was a half-hour long testament to Morris’s genius as a choreographer. “All Fours” opened with black silhouettes against a red backlight and was a sharp contrast to the sleepy “Bedtime.” The dancers exuded anger and a repeated motif of dancer’s bringing their folded hands to their heads was unsettling. When the talented Bradon McDonald danced a precise yet wild duet with Craig Biesecker, he jumped, twirled, and answered his partner’s movements as if his feet were just freed from a ball and chain.

In “V,” the final piece, the dancers softly landed prodigious leaps and then smiled as if surprised they had made it. The piece’s repeated motion of dancers dropping to the floor and crawling on their toes and hands across the stage, either alone or in a group, called to mind pictures of mankind rising from ape ancestors: first we were close to the ground as apes, then only hunched over and finally upright as homo sapiens. What comes after we stand on our feet? If people keep falling and rising is it evolution?

The Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson College

All images are courtesy of the artist.

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