New York State Theater at Lincoln Center
It would be nice to report that "King Arthur," the new ballet being presented by the Mark Morris Dance Group, is a triumph, but that would be inaccurate for two reasons.
The first is that the evening, while entertaining at times, is only spottily successful. And the second is that "King Arthur" is not a ballet but really an opera, here presented by the New York City Opera.
It's understandable that the NYCO would hesitate to put on a traditional production of Henry Purcell's 17th century work, which runs a daunting four hours and contains an often impenetrable mixture of music, blank verse, dance and songs. But Morris' approach to it, what he calls "a pageant -- a sort of vaudeville," produces limited rewards. Throwing out the entirety of the plot concerning King Arthur's struggle to reunite his kingdom and all of the dialogue written by poet John Dryden, he has instead devised an abstract series of admittedly fun dances performed to the composer's still-beautiful music.
The result, which is more ballet than opera, would feel far more at home as part of his company's repertoire rather than pretending to be a representation of the original work.
In a typical example of the evening's irreverence, the titular character is never seen onstage but instead is merely represented by a large crown. Seven onstage singers deliver stirring versions of the lovely Baroque songs -- the chorus is relegated to the orchestra pit -- while 16 members of the company, clad in Isaac Mizrahi's casually whimsical costumes, perform a series of dances choreographed by Morris in his usual playful style.
The results are highly episodic, to say the least, with some segments proving delightful (the Maypole dance finale) and others simply silly (a character sings while trapped in a refrigerator).
But while the dances are performed charmingly and the music is beautifully handled by the orchestra and singers under the direction of Jane Glover, "King Arthur" never achieves an iota of emotional resonance.
Presented by the New York City Opera and the Mark Morris Dance Group
Music: Henry Purcell
Libretto: John Dryden
Director-choreographer: Mark Morris
Set designer: Adrianne Lobel
Costume designer: Isaac Mizrahi
Lighting designer: James F. Ingalls
Daniel Mobbs, Alexander Tall, Iestyn Davies, Steven Sanders, Sarah Jane McMahon, Heidi Stober, Mhairi Lawson
Craig Biesecker, Charlton Boyd, Elisa Clark, Amber Darragh, Rita Donahue, Lauren Grant, John Heginbotham, David Leventhal, Laurel Lynch, Bradon McDonald, Dallas McMurray, Maile Okamura, June Omura, Noah Vinson, Julie Worden, Michelle Yard