When you first got your driver’s license, did you take your parents’ car out? Perhaps tentatively at first, and then with more confidence each time? And yet, it was always your parents’ car, and always would be, but you got used to it, and maybe they got used to the idea of you in it. Well Mark Morris has had the proverbial keys to the parents’ car—Lincoln Center—for several years now. Even so, given his puckish nature, he’ll always seem like the teenager in the Buick Roadmaster. And that’s not a bad thing.
Lincoln Center, where Mark Morris Dance Group has performed regularly in recent years—with more frequency than even BAM, near his headquarters—dominates Manhattan’s culturescape in the genres of classical ballet, music and opera. Morris is no neophyte, with his company nearly 30 (!) years old. His modern style is straightforward, rhythmically attentive, often joyous. And yet he structures his dances with the great care of a classicist, from the full-length works to the shorter ones. It’s earthbound and exalted all at once.
Mostly Mozart has been a good fit for Morris. Not only does his presence (plus other dance events) on the slate add some spice to a predictable format, it presumably draws a new dance audience that has a predisposition to musically intelligent dance. Mozart Dances (clip below ), of 2006 is a three-part opus that ranks among Morris’ finest work and was broadcast on Live From Lincoln Center, a rarity these days for work by a modern dance choreographer.
Morris’ ballet Romeo & Juliet: On Motifs of Shakespeare, using Prokofiev’s original score, was seen just this spring at Rose Theater. And when he choreographs/directs opera, it’s often an organic fit. The Met Opera’s gorgeous 2007 production of Orfeo ed Euridice was directed and choreographed by Morris, as was New York City Opera’s 2008 production of King Arthur. Presumably there was a huge difference in budget for these two operas. The Met’s stunning wedding cake set and lavish costumes undoubtedly cost a pretty penny. But King Arthur showed a resourcefulness that has much to recommend (particularly for that company in these times), typified by the paper airplane-and-streamers grand finale. Morris can command a big production budget now, but his three decades of scrapping for his modern dance company’s viability have surely given him some valuable perspective.The company is again at the Rose Theater this weekend, performing two new works: Visitation, to Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in C major, and Empire Garden, to Ives’ rhythmically challenging Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano. It’s a return to the company’s bread-and-butter concert dance format, except that “the band” includes Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Emanuel Ax on piano. In addition, V will be performed (to Schumann’s Quintet in E-flat major for piano and strings), which received a tremendous reception upon its debut in 2001. The performances are sold out, but there may be tickets released for sale just prior to curtain times.
Image of a performance of Empire Garden. Photo: Mark Morris Dance Group / Gene Schiavone.