Mark Morris shares one thing in common with George Balanchine: music. It guides him, sets the stage for whatever he creates, and if the music doesn’t speak to him, then there’s no reason to choreograph it. If he speaks, one can be sure of a work rich in choreographic density that continues to drive the music, to comment on it, as well as pushing the boundaries of dance to include a rich array of steps and patterns that are seldom appeared in the modern world. dancing or even ballet. Morris is very devious; he appreciates both. Composers can be classic, modern, whatever. This is not the point. They need their own validity to be included in the dance hall of fame.
Morris has created over 150 works, many of which fit into the repertoires of ballet and modern dance companies around the world. Then there’s his own company, Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) and Music Ensemble, which is headquartered in Brooklyn. The dancers love his choreography. He gives them ample opportunity to show technique but, like Balanchine, leaves room for personal interpretation, without stopping by preconceived ideas about what is expected of them. Although not everyone wants it, it can be a huge boon for body and soul.
All of the works on the program were choreographed to music by Lou Harrison, someone Mr. Morris adored. Like Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky to Balanchine, there was something about Harrison’s music that struck a chord, paving the way for creation for Mr. Morris. I don’t know what it is and I don’t want to. It is the domain of the choreographer. Either way, I hope he will continue.
“Pacific” evokes classical Indian dance, setting the stage for what appears to be a community at large. The dance was originally premiered for the San Francisco Ballet in 1995 and was later presented to the MMDG. It’s austere, somewhat withdrawn, but it takes on a cheerful color, not avoiding glimpses of love, while delivering a swirling finish.
What makes the work so interesting for me is the geometry of the choreography. It moves in different patterns and shapes, now simple now overwhelming. He doesn’t stop for a minute. Your eye is constantly alerted to the adrenaline rush the dancers bring to the movement. When it’s over, it almost feels like it happened too quickly. You might think you missed valid points. I’ve seen work before, and I still feel that way. That’s why I’m looking forward to next time.
“Numerator” focuses on six men. It looks hazy, hazy. Men are a tribe, they connect smoothly, sometimes with the speed of a warrior, but there is always a feeling of nurturing environment. As in Balanchine, we are not given a scenario. It can be invented, but all we feel are the nuances that men present to us. The weight of the dance changes, almost as the steps and gait of the men change. There is a quiet feeling of loss. Yet men make a connection, even though it may be tenuous.
“Serenade” was a solo that Morris choreographed and performed until his retirement in 2003. Various percussion instruments, including a gong, drum and castanets, accompany the five different movements, accompanied by different accessories, a fan, bells, a long cylinder shaped. To add to the fun, Morris played castanets.
It was beautifully danced by Lesley Garrison, who brought such a wealth of enthusiasm and bubbly good humor to the performance. The dance continued to build, as the audience responded with heavy applause. I can’t wait to see him again.
“Grand Duo” closed the afternoon, a wonderful and wild tour de force of dance. Like many other dances, it seemed to feature a tribe. At least, that’s what it seemed. But like I’ve always said, who cares? The end of the dance with a flurry of dancers stomping, jumping and having fun woke the entire audience into a frenzy.
What’s next for Morris?
Photography: Lesley Garrison in “Serenade”.