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What the World Needs Now

Mark Morris's “The Look of Love” begins with praise. Dancers stand in a circle facing inward with clasped hands and chests lifted as Burt Bacharach's “What the World Needs Now” resonates in the theatre. Morris's dance, which was first performed in 2022 and had its New York premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on March 20th, is a celebration of Bacharach's music and his idea of love, which, in spite of minor ups and downs, remains, as the opening song suggests, overwhelmingly “sweet.”    

Performance

Mark Morris Dance Group: “The Look of Love”

Place

Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY, March 20, 2024

Words

Cecelia Whalen

Mark Morris Dance Group in “The Look of Love.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

Bacharach, who passed away in 2023, dominated the pop charts from the 1960s through the 1980s. His songs won Grammys, Oscars, and an Emmy, and were recorded by many leading pop stars of the day, most notably Dionne Warwick, with whom Bacharach and lyricist Hal David collaborated for many years. Morris's production, which had Bacharachs music arranged by Ethan Iverson, likewise featured star vocalist Marcy Harriell, who is best known for leading roles in “Rent” andIn the Heights” on Broadway. Harriell was accompanied by the Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble, a lively band who had the audience grooving along in our seats. 

“The Look of Love” is cheery and playful. When dancing to "Never Fall in Love Again," dancers tug at each other and exchange looks of suspicion which are overturned by embraces. In “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” they bounce in and out of candy-colored folding chairs, designed—along with the delightful, bright, color-blocked costumes—by Isaac Mizrahi. Nicole Pearce's bold, glowing lighting compliments and accentuates Mizrahi's designs. 

Mark Morris Dance Group in “The Look of Love.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

Solos, duets, soli, and ensemble sections are seamlessly linked. In “Walk On By,” the group moves around the stage in walking patterns, overlapping in horizontal lines that move from right to left as well as front to back. Groups of two become four, three become five, five become eight, and so on. Movements gain and lose members without losing any momentum, demonstrating Morris's mastery of spatial patterning.

Morris breaks up these lyric-coordinated gestural phrases with bursts of ensemble unison. Dancers leap in wide, open positions facing front, perform arcing barrel jumps, and turn in attitude with chests raised. They give knowing glances to the audience and once, even lip-sync to a song. 

Mark Morris Dance Group in “The Look of Love.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

“The Look of Love” isn't particularly subtle, but ‘understated’ is not the kind of love this dance is looking for. Neither is it searching for profound, philosophical enlightenment: It's not a Platonic Symposium. It's a party. 

And so, nothing, not break-ups nor a strange appearance of “The Blob” (Bacharach did the music for the 1958 horror movie of the same title and Morris pays brief, silly tribute) can get this group down. 

Not even crumby weather: In “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” dancers lift their faces and gleefully open their mouths to the sky, catching rain on their tongues like drops of honey.

Cecilia Whalen


Cecilia Whalen is a writer and dancer from Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and holds a bachelor's degree in French. Currently, Cecilia is studying composition at the Martha Graham School for Contemporary Dance in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.

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