‘Acis & Galatea’ invokes ancient myth with powerful East Coast premiere

Susan Saccoccia | 5/21/2014, 10:17 a.m.
The spirit of spring animates the latest production of world-renowned choreographer Mark Morris, "Acis & Galatea." Mingling the arts of ...

The second act opens with a long, lovely musical prelude. Its shadows set the tone for loss to come. The dancers move in slow, repetitive knots that build in pauses, like the syncopated blue notes in a jazz composition.

Polyphemus gains an introduction befitting a formidable creature. As the chorus sings of his “ample strides,” a light-as-air pyramid of dancers bounces across the stage in the shape of giant footsteps. As the singers describe how “the forest shakes” with his “giant roars,” the dancers’ arms and legs quiver and their bodies tumble like wind-felled trees. Enter baritone Douglas Williams, whose monster is a wiry, suave dandy sporting a natty suit in the same camouflage fabric worn by the other singers. Williams brings to his role the gleeful panache of a Broadway leading man. He subjects the dancers to slaps, strokes, pinches, gropes and other lewd gestures as they file past him, shoulders slumped in submission, and collapse in a pile behind him.

Entreating Polyphemus to not force himself on Galatea, tenor Zach Finkelstein, as Damon, a friend of Acis, leads the chorus in a soft refrain, “Softly, gently, kindly treat her.” Meanwhile, brooding in ominous isolation, Polyphemus is on the floor stretching himself. All that is visible are his languorously flexing feet.

Signaling the gathering doom, Laurel Lunch performs a chilling solo, marching while holding her head, face and shoulders rigid.

With a flick of his arm, Polyphemus triggers the fatal blow. The boulder takes the form of delicate Maile Okamura, whose partners, standing in a row, jettison her over their heads across the width of the stage to strike Acis.

Urged on by the chorus, Galatea transforms her dead lover into a kindred immortal. He reappears with a wreath on his head and a shawl on his shoulders, before becoming immersed by an undulating stream of dancers.

Draped in a scarf like the reborn Acis, Morris joins the performers on stage and leads them in a succession of decorous, balletic bows.