'Dido' shows Morris' mastery

Choreographer Mark Morris opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington Wednesday with his dance drama, "Dido and Aeneas."

Dance aficionados who have been following this gifted, unconventional choreographer know how Mr. Morris' work follows the music and libretto of Henry Purcell's operetta and how it raised eyebrows during its initial performance in Brussels in 1989.


Then, Mr. Morris took audiences by surprise with his gender-bending casting that gave the wild-haired, full-bodied choreographer the dual roles of Mr. Purcell's heroine, Dido, and her nemesis, the Evil Sorceress. Mr. Morris liberally doused his work with sexuality, giving him and this dance a certain reputation.

Yet for all the hoopla, "Dido and Aeneas" was rather tame. I wondered whether the work had been toned down, or whether there had been much ado about nothing. Regardless, it is a masterly work that wonderfully illuminates the characters and Mr. Purcell's score (deftly performed by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and the Washington Bach Consort).


Without a doubt, Mr. Morris got the juicy roles. His Dido is like a teen-ager in love. She moons about, gazes into space and literally has to be shaken into action.

But it is Sorceress that steals the second and fourth acts with her wickedly wonderful antics.

Aside from Mr. Morris' engaging performances, the solid underpinnings of the dance and the main reason for its success is the chorus.

Incorporating elements of mime and sign language with snippets of hand gestures lifted from East Indian dances, the chorus not only comments on the action of the main characters, but often is the action. As Dido's courtiers, they commiserate with her; as the Sorceress' imps, they gambol and writhe in ecstasy; as the sailors on Aeneas' ship, they perform a natty nautical work; and as witness to Dido's death, they solemnly mourn.

Mr. Morris understands the power of unison and the beauty of symmetry.

'Dido and Aeneas'

When: 7:30 tonight and at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, Washington.


Tickets: $27-$34.50.

Call: (202) 467-4600.