A visit from the Mark Morris Dance Group always promises to boost morale. The group will appear on Friday, November 30 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, courtesy of Performance Santa Fe, in a four-piece program that spans a range of musical and emotional territories. The musical territory is at the center of the concerns of this company. Since the founding of the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) in 1980, Morris has made no secret of his preference that a dance company be supported by live musicians rather than recordings. In 1996 he formalized the MMDG Music Ensemble, a group of premier instrumentalists who join dancers in real-time renditions of Morris’s eclectic repertoire, and since then have been an integral part of his troupe.
The opening number of the Santa Fe event, Honeymoon dance, celebrates popular songs of the 1920s and early 1930s as transcribed and arranged from historical recordings made by Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan, the leading vocalists of that time in the UK. This is a quick sequence of 15 songs in 18 minutes, taken from medleys in which the two singers slip harmoniously through small extracts of songs. Some songs may be at least somewhat familiar, such as Gershwins’ “Do Do Do” (1926), Cole Porter’s “Experiment” (1933) or “You Were Meant for Me” (his melody written in 1929 by Herb Nacio Brown, native of Deming, New Mexico). Others, especially those from British songwriters, may be new discoveries for many listeners.
“I have never been super fascinated with most contemporary popular music,” Morris said in a telephone interview. “Of course I hear it, and I keep track of it, because how can you not? But I grew up in a family that sang all the time. When I was a kid, I hated the music that my parents did. preferred, which was big band music, but I also knew songs from my grandparents days. I grew up watching old movie musicals, so those songs were there. Maybe I “I’m still 50 or 60 years late. And then I found out how much I like the English perspective on this stuff. It’s tight but also a little bit naughty and sexy and funny and sad. Code pre-Hays Some people would accuse him of not swinging, but I love it.
The arrangement Morris uses is for piano, violin, drums, and vocals. But isn’t it unethical MMDG to overlay the prerecorded vocals of Lawrence and Buchanan? Morris offered clarification and revealed a surprise: “We never did it with their recorded voices. Someone always sang it as part of the musical ensemble – not always me, but I sang it myself during the last few shows of this piece, and it’s going well enough for me to continue. It puts me in the show, which is a good thing because I don’t do a lot of dancing anymore.
Either way, we wondered if dancing to vocal music created any particular challenge, with the lyrics perhaps forcing audience members to focus on the choreography, music, and parallel words. “My terrible admission,” he replied, “is that it is sometimes easier when you have a text and by implication some kind of narrative.” Another piece on the program, Words, uses a selection of pieces for solo piano by Mendelssohn entitled Songs without words. “The thing with the Songs without words, he said, is that it is very easy to find words [for them]. That’s why I call the dance piece Words. The dance provides a suggestion of the words that might be there. I always refer to it in one way or another, whether I make a very obvious mimetic translation of the text with the naked eye, or ignore it and deal only with the rhythm or the rhythm. melody. For me, it’s interesting and fun, and I do it all the time. It’s a way of coming up with ideas and accepting or rejecting them.
Words is a relatively recent entry in the MMDG repertoire, having premiered in 2014. In contrast, the two remaining pieces are classics: It introduced solo dance Three Preludes (to Gershwin’s three piano preludes) in 1992, and Grand Duo, to a score by Lou Harrison, in 1993. Once Morris has created a choreographic work, it tends to remain basically a fixed quantity – for these pieces, even for a quarter of a century. “Pretty much always the text of the dance stays and the dancers walk through it,” he said. “Every once in a while I fix something that was a glaring error in the choreography – which struck me. I am not updating it. But each person dances in a different way – hurray! It shows even more when you do something in very close unison. In a solo, you have more leeway than in a group dance, where you have other people to match. I used to play Three Preludes myself – I invented it for myself and Mr. Baryshnikov simultaneously – and it has been done by a number of dancers over the years. It comes and goes from the active directory so that we never tire of it. Right now it’s Laurel Lynch doing this solo, and it’s really difficult. The dance is quite virtuoso and brief, but it is a very stimulating and exciting dance.
With the evening’s closing work, the audience will be transported to a room using the music of one of Morris’s frequent collaborators, the late Harrison. Morris became a good friend of Harrison and his wife, Bill Colvig, who lived in uncensored freedom at their home in Aptos, Calif., In the hills above Santa Cruz. Already in the 1980s Morris was on their visitors’ list, and his voice takes on a special sparkle when he remembers their time spent together, dancing, making music and talking. The last time MMDG appeared at Lensic, he presented Peaceful, which used Harrison’s piano trio.
This time the Harrison score is Grand Duo, which Harrison composed in 1988 for violin and piano. In concert, the composition extends well beyond half an hour. Morris admits Harrison was unhappy with his decision to excise one of his five movements – a Largo which Morris describes as “a magnificent piece”, but which has lasted too long for choreographic purposes. Morris choreographed Grand Duo back, one might say, starting with Harrison’s finale, a polka that might remind a listener of Shostakovich’s strangely sardonic gaiety. He first choreographed it as a stand-alone piece. “For a few months,” he said, “we were only singing the polka movement as the four-minute closing piece for any gig we were doing. This can be done with any number. pair of dancers; it’s symmetrical, so it’s adjustable that way.
At one point, the dancers are all lying on the stage in a wide circle, moving their legs in unison. Was this, we asked, Mark Morris’ Busby Berkeley moment? “These moments happen all the time,” he replied, “There is always a crane in my work. It’s a final. A few months later, he returned and choreographed three of the previous moves to lead up to the polka, something he said he had never done before or since. These earlier movements display more Asian influences which had a great impact on Harrison, who was a particularly devoted student of Korean music – a beautiful counterpart to Morris, who drew heavily on Indian and Indonesian dance traditions.
We anticipate an evening which, despite its variety, exudes many moments of goodwill. It seems indelible in the character of MMDG and its founder and director. Morris said, “I don’t want every play I show to be a mirror of the horrible day you just had before the tough times you had to find a parking space to go to the theater. I am a little optimistic. Of course, I have tragedy and heartache and grief in my job; there can be no light without heavy. What seems a little airy and fun is still how everyone feels about each other all the time. ??
Mark Morris Dance Group
▼ Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St.
▼ 7:30 p.m. Friday November 30