As a part of the 2012 American Dance Festival at the Durham Performing Arts Center, the Mark Morris Dance Group presented a children’s matinee on the morning of the group’s final performance on Saturday night, which helped to close out the month’s dance events. While Mark Morris Dance Group is known for its beautiful choreography, it provided a wonderful opportunity for children and younger audiences to come explore the world of modern dance as well.

One of the best parts of this performance was the fact that the performances were not watered down for the children; there were no elaborate sets or storylines to make the dances easy to understand. The style of dance was based in ballet, but with fall-and-recovery techniques that made it look almost imperfect; however, the dancers’ technique had obviously been perfected over years of study.

The first piece, Canonic ¾ Studies, was premiered in 1982 and was even part of the evening performances, showing that the children’s matinee was not an opportunity to sell out to children, but to provide a shorter, more manageable program for children to sit through. The piece featured nine very talented dancers who performed repetitive motions in canon, illustrating how relatively simple movements put together could form a larger, more beautiful whole. The choreography gradually became more and more elaborate, as did the music.

Performed by pianist Colin Fowler, all the music during this performance sounded as if it could have fit into a ballet, but with some syncopation and dissonance eked in to make the music just quirky enough to fit the modern dance style.

The next dance was called Ten Suggestions, performed by soloist Dallas McMurray. He performed ten miniature pieces that all suggested some kind of play, pantomime, or dream. The children in the audience whispered excitedly the whole way through, enjoying the opportunity to more literally interpret the dance. McMurray’s performance was convincing, varied, and enthusiastic.

By the end of the performance, the children were dancing in the aisles on their way out of DPAC, some enjoying a nice snack of popcorn, juice boxes, and pretzels while others had their faces painted at the “kids’ party” in the lobby. This fifty-minute program seemed to be just enough to foster the children’s interest in dance and give them a refined, yet not too difficult to understand cultural experience.