Review: Looking for Love With Burt Bacharach, and Finding a Prayer

In most parts of the world, it’s true that love — the sweeter the better — is the only thing that there’s justtoo little of. In Mark Morris’s “The Look of Love,” set to music by Burt Bacharach with new arrangements by Ethan Iverson, love is the fuel, the pursuit, the ultimate destination. There are hugs, there are outstretched arms — to say a little prayer for you, Morris-style — and there is heartbreak. In some moments the dancers’ bodies wilt, as if caught in a sigh.

The work, set to 14 songs and running at just over an hour, opened with the curtain down and an instrumental overture of “Alfie” by Iverson, whose piano playing was delicate but still cut through the air, quieting the energy of the crowd. When the curtain rose to “What the World Needs Now,” it felt apt, setting the tone for a dance in which love is the wellspring for choreographic expression.

But fully entering the world of “The Look of Love,” which opened Wednesday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, was not always smooth sailing, especially in the beginning when the movement echoed the lyrics so pointedly and with such repetition that it was hard for anything to stick. The experience was like standing in gentle ocean waves and watching them wash over your slowly sinking feet. Again. And again.

For all its lovely moments and wonderful musicians, “Look of Love” didn’t seem full enough to stand alone as an evening-length work. Morris makes dances because of music; it is a firm part of his artistic aesthetic that the two are in relationship, but they weren’t always on equal footing. In many instances the music overpowered the movement, especially when Marcy Harriell, the marvelous vocalist and Broadway actress, was belting from the pit. She gives Bacharach’s songs, with Hal David’s lyrics, a captivating modernity complete with warmth and power.

But as the dance progressed, a certain softness prevailed, reinforced by the choreography’s buttery pliés, shapely arms and softly bent knees in leg extensions. That helped to focus the frame for Morris’s look at love, which was only occasionally saccharine. There were times when it was weird, too, for better — the spooky comedic number set to music (by Bacharach and Mack David) for the 1958 sci-fi horror movie, “The Blob” — and for worse, as when Dallas McMurray lip-synced “Message to Michael” as though he was a beatnik in a cafe run by Doris Day.

As for its look? Isaac Mizrahi’s costumes and production design are like an unquenchable desire for hope. The dancers wear separates that pop in a sunny array of orange, pink, purple, red and yellow and glow under Nicole Pearce’s lighting design, which saturates the stage with color. Folding chairs and cushions, moved by the dancers throughout, make for a malleable, D.I.Y. set.

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