Nearly four years have passed since the Mark Morris Dance Group last came to Dallas, and upon their much-anticipated return, I wonder what this nearly 40-year old institution has up its sleeve?
If you ask Morris, like I did recently, you'll get this response: "I hope you like it."
Chances are pretty good we will, if MMDG's reputation is any indication. Morris is "America's most exciting modern dance choreographer," according to The New Yorker, and his "ability to surmount musical difficulties that would flummox most anyone else is awe-inspiring," says The Washington Post.
Now, those are some words to live up to, and in my experience with Morris -- though I have only interviewed him on one other occasion, I have grown up watching his work, both live and on a worn out VHS recording of A Hard Nut -- the show on May 10, presented by TITAS at the Winspear Opera House, will live up to the hype.
Morris truly is one of the most influential and celebrated choreographers today for too many reasons to list here, but one main idea always sticks out and is always commented on: His once-controversial pieces have become the standard of creativity for emerging dancers and choreographers. His sense of creative freedom and license, his almost absolute need for it, is that one element that makes his work instantly recognizable and unique.
When I first spoke to him four years ago, Morris commented on the fact that he pushes his dancers to focus on their technique, to take class, to continue their education, something that he strongly believes and sets an example of with The School at the Mark Morris Dance Center. "The reason for technique is for it to vanish at the moment of performance," he said, and that belief is the standout feature of this company.
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That, and the fact that he insists on live music at every performance. The dancers of MMDG are always noted for their wit and grace on stage, their ability to adjust to different performance venues and environments at the drop of a hat, and for their refined musicality. The latter reinforced because of Morris' use of live musicians. "Of course there will be live music [in Dallas]. Always. [But] there will ... be two dances that are performed to recorded music, [only because] they are set to unrecreatable scores." The 'Tamil Film Songs in Stereo' Pas de Deux (1983) and A Wooden Tree (2012), are the two pieces Morris is referring to.
Tamil is a short and sweet piece that gives us a look into the typical dance studio scenario: one with a nervous student, dressed in the requisite tight dress, receiving a private lesson from an immaculate and austere dance teacher. Not to give too much away before the show, but their interactions are absurd in their normality. He shows her how to do the steps correctly; she flounders behind him. And it's all set to Indian dance music that provides a dialogue between the performers.
A Wooden Tree rovides more humor for the evening. Full of hip thrusts, pelvic gyrations, dirty jokes, and absurdist folk songs, Tree takes us back to the '60s. It's a romp through the past, and through these characters lives. They are living and dying and are inviting us in.
As will the other works in the show, all of which span MMDG's long history. It will be a night of humor and a look into the human condition. And a look into what the future will bring for the company as Morris' voice becomes more developed and fine-tuned. His intention is clear and direct, and when asked what to expect, his response is truly Morris: "I would never kiss and tell! More of everything. Deeper. Simpler. More fun."