Tag Archives: Mark Morris Dance Group

Movement Therapy

The local Dance for Parkinson’s Disease troupe prepares for its first public performance in collaboration with the Dallas Museum of Art’s Jackson Pollock exhibition.

Misty Owens leads a class at the Dallas Museum of Art for the Dance for Parkinson’s Disease program. Photo: Courtesy of Dance for PD.

Dallas — Dance educator Misty Owens has devoted most of her career to discovering fun and creative ways for people with mental and physical disabilities to get involved in the art of dance. Her first experience working with adults with disabilities was with Joanie Carlisle’s dance troupe, Buen Viaje, in New Mexico where Owens also earned her B.F.A in dance at the University of New Mexico.

“I was literally in the classroom with them every week learning how to work with people with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome and anything in between,” Owens says.

This experience would later come in handy when Owens started teaching at the New York-based Mark Morris Dance Group where the Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) program was founded back in 2001.

“Mark Morris had just started his dance company in 2001 when Olie Westheimer, the founder of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group, approached him about classes for members of the group. The classes consisted of six people and were taught once a month by Mark Morris dancers John Heginbotham and David Leventhal. I was invited to teach a few months later when they began holding the classes on a more weekly basis and that was the beginning of this program building.”

Currently in its 15th year, the Dance for PD program offers specialized dance classes to people with Parkinson’s, their families, friends and care partners in six locations around New York City and through their network affiliates in more than 100 communities in 13 countries around the world.

Photo: Courtesy Dance for PD.

Dallas is lucky to be among one of these 100 communities thanks to Owens, who took the initiative and reached out to the Dallas Area Parkinsonism Society after moving back home in 2010. “It took a little while to get people following the program, but I started Jan. 4, 2011, with my first class and I had about nine students,” she says. “We would meet once a week at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas and over the summer we changed to twice a week because of the demand. And since August 2010, the Dallas program is the only one in the nation that consistently meets twice a week.”

Through the use of imagery and storytelling Owens is able to get her students to open their minds up to new ways of moving no matter how well their bodies are working. “The essence of dance is joy and there is nobody on the planet who dances that doesn’t experience some sort of release while doing it. For someone with a movement disorder 99.9 percent of their day is about navigating symptoms, but when they step into my class they become this entity who can be anything from a bird soaring to the swimmer Esther Williams. Using the imagination and creativity to immerse ourselves in an alternate world, which for me is the vocabulary of dance, that sort of possibility about an unknown discovery has so much potential.”

Owens has been wanting her students to perform for a while, and they get will their chance this Friday thanks to an artistic collaboration with the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) facilitated by Amanda Blake, the DMA interim director of education and head of family, access and school experiences. The performance concludes a four-month long pilot program in which members of the local Dance for PD and Movement Disorders classes were brought into the DMA for gallery discussions followed by interactive dance and movement workshops.

“Amanda Blake has been an absolute champion and the creative force behind inviting me to come to the museum and do this access program with my Dance for PD students. Together we crafted out a four-month venture for people with Parkinson’s to come into the museum and experience a completely new world.” She adds, “One of the reasons many of my students agreed to perform was because they actually felt more liberated, and safe and free to express themselves in a completely new context in the DMA.”

About 19 Dance for PD students (some standing and some seated) ranging in ages from mid 50’s to early 90’s will perform a new piece choreographed by Owens and inspired by works of art in the Jackson Pollock: Blind Spotsexhibition which runs at the DMA through March 20. “The piece is comprised of three sections of movement and each section is inspired by different parts of the Jackson Pollock exhibition.” She adds, “And before that we are presenting an excerpt from the Mark Morris piece Falling Down Stairs from The Bourree Project. The entire performance is probably about 35 minutes long, but it’s their first venture into performing and I am excited to see what happens at the final presentation.”

The Dance for PD students of Dallas will take the stage for the first time in Mark Morris’ Falling Down Stairs and an original work by Owens at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19 at the DMA.

» More information about the event can be found at www.dma.org. And more information regarding the Dance for Parkinson’s Disease program is available at www.danceforparkinsons.org.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.



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.