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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mark Morris, music man

Posted by on Sat, Jul 21, 2007 at 6:46 PM

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The Mark Morris Dance Group concludes this year’s American Dance Festival with a musical performance.

“I always start with music,” says the most recent recipient of the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award. “Nearly every culture dances to music or at least rhythm.”

In the presentation of his work, Morris is just as interested in the musical aspect as the dance. In fact, the company travels with their own music troupe, the Mark Morris Music Ensemble. Even in his dance school in Brooklyn, New York, he insists on live music in every one of his dance classes, even if the dancers are only four-year-olds. And he chooses the members of his professional dance company who are “musically smart,” many who have strong musical backgrounds.

Each of the four dances in the program relies strongly on its musical counterpart. All Fours, for example, is a dissonant piece both in movement and music. The group of about ten dancers delivered synchronized, but deliberately off-timed, choreography that mirrored the disquieting and somewhat urgent effect of the music. However, Morris is keenly aware that this unsettling effect is largely created by outside cultural influences. The music actually derives from Hungarian folk songs, he explains, but because of the similarities to the soundtrack in the shower scene of Hitchcock’s Psycho, audiences listen and view the work in these, more culturally familiar terms, and the effect is one of suspense.

Morris uses the dance to develop his own sort of vocabulary. He explains “[Dance is] evocative of a situation that I don’t want to translate into text.” But as for actually denoting the choreography with a particular vocabulary, he leaves it to the audience.

“That sounds good to me,” he responds to one viewer’s clumsy description a portion of Grand Duo as “moving up and then into that circle.”

And what should audiences bring to a Mark Morris Dance Group performance?

“A check.”

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