He’s the darling of Edinburgh Festival audiences, the maverick acclaimed as a genius. But MARK MORRIS just wants to have fun. Words: Donald Hutera
ark Monis was once famously compared to a diva crossed with a truck-driver. Like the dances he makes, this celebrated American choreographer is both grand and unpretentious. And when he’s in a buoyant mood, he’s a one-man party; flamboyant, smart, funny, somewhat exhausting, but such good value.
A British newspaper recently dubbed him ‘a natural-bom genius’. Morris’ response when told the news was typical: ‘Who said that — me?’ He’s joking, yet serious to the extent that he takes an avid interest in everything written about him. ‘I prefer it when it’s well-argued, whether I agree with it or not,’ he says, now shom of his trademark curly locks. but no less a presence with his piercing blue eyes and extravagant gestures. ‘l’d much rather have a fabulously composed attack than really dopey acclaim.’
Yet the man knows he makes good work. That’s his vocation, privilege and pleasure. ‘Of course it’s hard.’ he says. ‘But not too hard to do. And there’s a fabulous pay-off. which is what we do and where we go and who we
The ‘we’ is Morris’ eponymous company. He and his dancers became audience and critical favourites in these parts thanks to an unprecedented string of consecutive Edinburgh Festival visits throughout the l990s. Morris reciprocath the affection by agreeing to be artistic patron of Dance Base, the city’s new dance centre. His troupe will acknowledge the gorgeous building during the second of two gigs at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, via a one-off piece d’occasion that encapsulates Morris’ choreographic history during a fast, jam—packed ten minutes.
He was born 45 years ago in Seattle, Washington. A precocious and unconventional child, Morris had ambitions to be a ﬂamenco dancer. He studied ballet, too, and in his teens fell in with a semi-professional Balkan folk- dance troupe. It was at this time that he began choreographing.
At nineteen, he sought his fortune in New York. He migrated between dance companies, never staying with one for more than a year and a half. Then, in 1980, he formed his own group. Within a scant four years Morris became, in the words of biographer .loan Acocella, ‘the most talked-about young choreographer in the United States’. For the unaffected freshness, weight and emotional reach of his work, critics hailed him as heir to mtxlem dance pioneers such as Martha Graham. For its astounding musicality and structural complexity, he was compared to the towering George Balanchine.
Morris’ work is anything but elitist. His dancers look like real people. Their movement is based as much on a vernacular
22 THE LIST 18 Oct—1 Nov 2001
His dancers look like real people and his taste is eclectic
as a classical style. Morris has no fixed choreographic signature. ‘I like a lot ofdifferent stuff.' he says. ‘Maybe [htth a weakness. l’m versatile. It’s great and horrible.’
His musical choices are equally eclectic. As the creator of nearly 1()() dances during the past two decades. Morris has embraced eyerything from Baroque to country and western to Tamil film songs. The four pieces his company will present in Glasgow and Edinburgh shuttle happily between early music and nostalgic standards. All will be accompanied liye; not by a full orchestra. but a handful of musicians.
Dancing Honeymrmn. a zany yet brainy crowd-pleaser. is set to a delectable medley of Vintage pop tunes performed in period style. ‘l’m in it too.’ Morris says. ‘lt’s kind of like a movie. It owes a little bit to Busby Berkeley.’
V. the evening‘s newest dance. is set to Schumann’s rollicking Quian in liﬂur. up. 4-1. The other works are septets. I Don't Him! In Lure illuminates the romance of Monteyerdi madrigals. while The ()ﬂia' is set to l)\'orak‘s I'ir'i' [family/luv/in' String Trio and llurmmrimn. up. 47.
Morris resists describing his dances —
‘l’eople can watch 'em. I don’t haye to
spoon-feed’ — btrt isn’t pr‘eciotrs about
them. ‘If nobody "gets" my work. that's
my problem.’ he says. ‘lt‘s like. “Oh. this
is way oyer eyer‘ybody's head". ls it
really'.’ 01‘ is it jtrst bad‘.’ I sort of think
there’s good art and bad art. instead of high art and low art.
There’s nothing wrong with making judgements. To be non—
judgmental makes me crazy. I like good food better than had food.’
If he wasn't in dance. what might he be doing'.’ ‘liyerybody thinks I’d be a fabulous conductor or singer or cellist. But I don’t know. I’m not disappointed that I can’t sing or play the piano. As a musician. I’m a choreographer. .-\nd l haye lots of fun. I’m an entertainer. My job is to put on excellent shows.’
Our reward is to enjoy eyery moment.
The Mark Morris Dance Company perform at Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Mon 29 8. Tue 30 Oct; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Fri 9 & Sat 10 Nov