MOZART DANCES June 6-8; ALL FOURS/VIOLET CAVERN June 10-11; LIEBESLIEDER WALTZES/GRAND DUO June 14-15 (Mark Morris Dance Group). At the MacMillan Theatre (80 Queen’s Park). See Dance Listings, page 84. 416-872-1111. Rating: NNNNN
Mark Morris, the former bad boy of modern dance, has grown up – his company’s more than 25 years old – but don’t think he’s become complacent.
“I’m less likely to storm out of the theatre in the middle of a show these days,” he says on the phone from Boston, where he’s conducting the orchestra for a performance of Dido And Aeneas for his dance troupe.
“It draws too much attention, gets written up in newspapers.” He sighs. “Now I often won’t go to a show rather than risk the danger of leaving and hurting people’s feelings. I want to tell them, ‘It’s not that I hate you, I just hate what you’re doing.’”
There won’t be many people walking out when his famed company hits town during Luminato with three shows, a double bill of the early Liebeslieder Waltzes (1989) and Grand Duo (93), the recent All Fours and Violet Cavern (2003 and 04) and the new Mozart Dances (2006).
Each program represents different styles, scales and eras of his choreography.
“I think my work is better now,” he says. “It’s more direct. It doesn’t remind me of anything else. If you do something for a very long time, if you don’t get better at it you should just quit.”
Morris calls his dances a response to music, and the scores for each piece are vastly different, ranging from Mozart concertos and sonatas to an original piece by avant-garde jazz troupe the Bad Plus. Not surprisingly, he’s always insisted on musicians performing live during his dance shows.
“You wouldn’t go to a music concert to listen to a recording, would you?” he says. “What’s the point in that? Neither would I want to go to a film to watch dancing.”
He’s equally passionate about Slow Dancing, David Michalek’s series of slo-mo images of dancers, which is also part of Luminato (June 6 to 15 at the U of T).
“It’s about dancing, but it isn’t dancing,” he says. “It’s absolutely wonderful, but it’s visual art. It has nothing to do with corporeality, choreography or spatiality.”
Morris, whose pre-Raphaelite look, complete with wild locks, has been toned down with age, was one of the first choreographers to employ dancers of different sizes.
“I have no interest in all the dancers looking alike, unless it’s a work about identical twins or something,” he says.
“Everybody always notices my dancers who are short or bald or, shockingly, black. But I choose people who dance great, and not just because they don’t conform to some Stalinist-approved body image from classical ballet.”
Today he continues to be an innovator. At his company’s gorgeous digs in Brooklyn, a couple of his dancers work with people afflicted with Parkinson’s. During his Toronto stay, there’ll be two Parkinson’s workshops in association with local dance artist Sarah Robichaud’s Dancing with Parkinson’s program (June 11 and 13 at the Young Centre).
“It’s not therapy,” he says. “There’s this amazing unlocking that happens through rhythm and action. It’s productive and liberating. Some of the people from the class go on to study other techniques.”
For someone who’s always been at the forefront of dance trends and styles, Morris has maintained his hipster cred even approaching middle age.
“I don’t pretend that I’m younger,” he says. “I associate with younger people, but I don’t wear a thong.”
On his former White Oak Dance Project dancer Peggy Baker:
On his company's longevity: