Q&A: Mark Morris

Photo: Sarah Schatz
Photo: Sarah Schatz

The choreographer on his musical influences, Dance for Parkinson”s Disease program and his company’s upcoming performance for TITAS at the Winspear Opera House.

Dallas — For more than 30 years Mark Morris has been wowing audiences with his refined musicality, subtle humor and fearless movement choices. He formed the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) in 1980 and in 2001 the company moved into its permanent headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Morris’ resume reads like a Who’s who list of modern dance. He began his dance training with Verla Flowers and Perry Brunson in Seattle, Washington in the 1960s. He then went on to perform with Lar Lubovitch, Hannah Kahn, Laura Dean, Eliot Feld and the Koleda Balkan Dance Ensemble. From 1988 to 1991 Morris was the Director of Dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels. And in 1991 he founded the White Oak Dance Project with Mikhail Baryshnikov.

A man of many talents, Morris started conducting performances for MMDG in 2006. He has collaborated with notable musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Zakir Hussain, Ethan Iverson, Emanuel Ax, Garrick Ohlsson and Yoko Nozaki. In addition to MMDG, Morris has also conducted at The International Festival of Arts and Ideas, Lincoln Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). He also works extensively in opera, directing and choreographing productions for the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, English National Opera and The Royal Opera.

Morris has received numerous accolades throughout his career, including the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement (2007), the Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award for the Elevation of Music in Society (2010), the Benjamin Franklin Laureate Prize for Creativity (2012) and Cal Performances Award of Distinction in the Performing Arts (2013).

Dallasites will get to discover Morris’ broad appeal for themselves when the MMDG comes to the Winspear Opera House May 10, 2014, part of TITAS’ season. The program includes Morris’ Italian Concerto (2007), A Wooden Tree (2012)The “Tamil Film Songs in Stereo” Pas de Deux (1983) and Festival Dance (2011). TheaterJones asks Mark Morris about his modern dance influences, the company’s longevity and his Dance for Parkinson’s Disease program.

TheaterJones: Mark Morris Dance Group has been around for more than 30 years. To what do you attribute your longevity?

Mark Morris: I suppose that plenty of people are interested in seeing my work more than once. Also, the dancers and musicians I work with are marvelous artists. I am also a very good choreographer.

How has your perception of your work changed throughout the years?

It is and always has been my job and my pleasure to make up dances.

When did your love for movement and music begin?

As a child. My home was very music-friendly and I took to dance at the age of 9.

Who are your modern dance influences?

George Frederic Handel and George Balanchine.

Who or what inspires you today?

Music, my dancers, literature and travel

The program in Dallas includes Italian ConcertoA Wooden TreeThe “Tamil Film Songs in Stereo” Pas de Deux and Festival Dance. Can you tell me a little bit about this line up?

Italian Concerto is composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, involves five dancers and the sections are fast/slow/fast. A Wooden Tree is performed to the recorded songs and poems of Ivor Cutler, involves eight dancers and follows a Scottish theme. The “Tamil Film Songs in Stereo” Pas de Deux is a comedy that follows the structure of a classical Pas de Deux to South Indian film music on tape. And Festival Dance is a big celebratory dance for six male/females couples done in three movements to a piano trio by Johann Nepomuk Hummel.

What qualities do you look for in your dancers?

You’ll see for yourself!

How would you describe modern dance to today’s aspiring professionals?

There is a lot of it and some of it is interesting.

What motivated you to start your Dance for Parkinson’s Disease program? How has the program grown?

We were contacted by the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group a dozen years ago. Dancers from my company devised an approach to teach dancing and singing to their students. It has developed logically and naturally into the wonderful international program of today.

More companies and studies are interested in adding adaptive dance classes in their curriculum and outreach programs. What advice do you have for them?

Fear not! Dancing appeals to most people, even if they don’t know it. Variety, imagination and empathy can help.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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