Mark Morris Dance Group’s weekend run at the Kennedy Center offers both temporal bliss and a textbook study in American arts funding. Thanks to a generous investment by the Kennedy Center, the company will perform “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato,” a 1988 evening-length work set to an oratorio by Handel, with live accompaniment by the Washington Bach Consort. The dance company has deep ties to the D.C. area, performing here annually and featuring local dancers like Rita Donahue, Spencer Ramirez, William Smith III, and Elisa Clark. Yet it’s been 13 years since Morris last performed “L’Allegro” here. Whether Morris could even create another similarly large-scale work is doubtful. The piece debuted in Brussels, when Morris was essentially the in-house choreographer at Belgium’s national opera. He had substantial resources at his disposal then; now, he needs help to stage “L’Allegro” in the States. The choreographer has long championed live music, and musicians love him for it. (Yo-Yo Ma often plays chamber music in the pit when Morris debuts a new work in New York.) But that also means that “L’Allegro” can only be performed when a venue is willing to foot the bill for a few extra dancers, four singers, and a full orchestra. Say what you will about the Kennedy Center’s conservative approach to dance; this weekend, the cultural edifice deserves praise for putting its money behind a modern masterpiece.
Mark Morris Dance Group performs at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday at the Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St. NW. $19-$69. kennedy-center.org. (202) 467-4600.