Mark Morris’ ‘The Look of Love’: Echoing the lyrics of the songs

Mark Morris Dance Group in 'The Look of Love'. Photo by David Bazemore.
Mark Morris Dance Group in 'The Look of Love'. Photo by David Bazemore.

Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY.
March 21, 2024.

In Mark Morris’ world, The Look of Love is packaged in brightly colored, nostalgic, approachable wrapping. The work, his first since 2017, offers love in digestible bites, but sometimes it feels like you’re ordering off the kids menu. Performed to a suite of 14 Burt Bacharach songs, the 65-minute show creates a specific reality that celebrates love in all its various forms. Like all of Morris’ shows, live musicians accompany the dancers with stellar vocals from acclaimed Broadway and film star, Marcy Harriell. In fact, one could almost think it was a concert, with a dance show.

The crowd bubbled with excitement but were quickly lulled into their seats when the first few notes filled the theater. The lighting design, costumes and sparse props all shared a vibrant color palate – yellow, orange, pink, peach, chartreuse and lavender, giving the impression that the journey ahead will be a light one. Indeed, much of the movement echoed the lyrics of the songs. While many seemed to enjoy it, the choreographic choice pulled me out of the world. Bacharach’s longtime lyricist Hal David often used simple, approachable and catchy phrases that when paired with the literal movement interpretation, left little room for the wonderful imagination dance can offer.

The impeccable dancing continually pulled me back in, however. Every dancer onstage moved through the choreography with a serene confidence and technical competency that gave the evening a sheen and luster. Even during parts that seemed a bit silly (a specific lip-synching performance within a performance moment), the authentic efforts of the dancers gave credence to the action onstage.

Setting work to very well-known music has its value and its risks, as each audience member will likely have their own relationship to the music when they enter the theater. In this case, comfort and nostalgia played a significant role for most people (including myself) from what I observed in the audience. Bacharach’s work is prolific, and there were a handful of times I was surprised to realize he had composed a such familiar song, such as “I Say a Little Prayer.”

The show didn’t challenge me, but it did entertain me. Its simplicity was almost refreshing, because sometimes dance can just be so much – so much to take in, so much to think about, so much to understand. There’s a lot to value in art that explores the depth of human emotion but doesn’t emote and belabor. The Look of Love was plenty entertaining and during this time in the world felt like a break, and a reminder that the pursuit and offering of love of any kind is the thread that weaves through us all.

By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.

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