l morrisd PREVIEW ‘ a
he first thing you notice about Mark Morris is his mass of
pre-Raphaelite curls. He is
someone who cites Boy George as
a role-model and whose dance
ranges from the sublime to the seriously witty. Until recently he was one of the youngest artistic directors of a major European dance company. and he‘s still a radical ballet-maker — an unusual combination at any time.
After four years of attic living and concentrated choreographic output with his own dance troupe, Seattle-born Morris
succeeded Mauric Béjart in 1988 at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels. Imported from the US. together with his American dancers, this upstart 32-year-old got right up the noses of Belgian audiences by speaking candidly about his predecessor‘s ability (or lack of it) and was rewarded with hisses and boos during his debut show.
But the rising star was not deterred. He was already plotting a shocking new work. Dido andAenear, which marks his British debut this Festival, was to have been a solo but Morris felt it should have an ever-present chorus, so it has grown to include six dancers, four opera singers and a full orchestra. Made in 1989, it contains much to attract new audiences. It has been described as ‘instantly readable’ and, ifhis previous work is anything to go by, it will certainly be accessible.
Hailed as one of the world’s greatest choreographers, MARK MORRIS makes his British debut after shocking Belgium and delighting the States. Tamsin Grainer talks to the enfant terrible about gender-swapping operatics.
l The story of Dido and Aeneas is a simple
: one. After the Trojan War, Aeneas is
l destined to found Rome. Unfortunately, he
becomes stranded in Carthage and falls for the Queen, Dido. For the couple to live
happily ever after would be to challenge
j fate, so the Sorceress plots to separate them.
One way and another she succeeds and Dido
dies heartbroken. The libretto for this
5 hour-long opera by Purcell was written
l especially for a 17th century girls’ boarding
2 school by Nahum Tate, and the fact that its
. original cast would have been all female may
have provoked Morris into playing both
female protagonists himself. It’s
characteristically original and does not
detract from the plot. When I ask Morris ifit
is a challenge to perform two female roles, I
receive a wry reply. ‘Stylistically they‘re
feminine parts,’ he says ‘but I don‘t have to
have therapy to get ready to perform them —
I’ve known women all my life.’
His humour is infectious. He has a penchant for reversing stereotypical roles, and uses wild mixtures of dance styles from ethnic, ballet, jazz and modern sources. Above all, you can’t miss his consummate musicality. Although he resembles that other enfant terrible Michael Clark, in his delight ofthings camp and a wee bitty rude, he is a mature dance-maker with things to say, only he doesn’t ram them down your
throat. Like Clark, he comes across on stage as laid-back and wacky, but when you speak
to him you can‘t ignore his years of experience and how serious he is about his work.
The Mark Morris Dance Group also presents a mixed bill — six works dating from the mid 19805 — over which many examples of Morris‘s choreographic skill are scattered. Most of the dances will be new to European audiences having been created since he returned to the States in 1991. Spectacular ensemble dancing sits alongside intricate spatial patterns. Waves ofdancers in, for example. Gloria. form circles that in seconds merge to become a series of diagonals stretching from corner to corner— always enough to keep the eye excited, but
‘They’re labulous, fabulous dancers, and we don’t look like a team of robots.’
never too complicated to follow. Morris utilises universal gestures — hand movements familiar from everyday greetings — as well as colloquial body-language which is immediately recognisable.
The pleasure ofa mixed bill is in the variety of musical and dance styles to be sampled. Bedtime is danced to Schubert songs, and Gloria is a thrilling paean to the music of Vivaldi. There's the Beautiful Day duet that speaks about pure love. and flashes of Astaire and flamenco in Three Preludes to Gershwin. In all ofthese, Morris mixes the zany and the sad. the elegant and awkward and comes up with something that speaks j reams about ourlives.
Not surprisingly, Morris delights in frustrating the expectations of the dance-going public, while at the same time wooing them. As an equal opportunities choreographer, he very often has women lifting men and men playing women. In order to achieve this, his female dancers are not the usual sylph-like clones. ‘I like human dancers,‘ he says, ‘because it‘s more interesting for me to watch them.‘
Gender-swapping is something Morris is obviously interested in, but it‘s not gratuitous, not just there to shock the bourgeoisie. In Dido and Aeneas it is used in appropriate places where it will illuminate the narrative. By playing both women, he suggests that Dido, the beautiful queen who falls for Aeneas, has within her the seeds of
~ ‘5 : her own downfall.The Sorceress,the
Mark Morris in wonderland |
l woman who causes Dido’s death, might
n actually be the black side of her own
I Robert Bordo’s designs leave clear space for the dance to take centre stage, his plain
I set featuring a simple pair of low classical
' balustrades and a painted canvas as a
backdrop. Similarly, the opera-ballet is
sparsely costumed in sleeveless black tops
and black sarongs by Belgian, Christine Van
14 The List l4—2()August 1992