Mark Morris tests limits of flexibility at Tanglewood


LENOX >> These are great days for Mark Morris, whose life appears charmed with possibilities.

"I always can have whatever I want," said Morris, one of the dance world's most important, and most musical, choreographers, in a recent phone conversation from his apartment in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan.

He meant that he enjoys complete freedom to do his work with wide parameters for his creative activity. He believes that live music goes hand-in-hand with dance performances, and he insists on it — everywhere his Mark Morris Dance Group performs, "since 1996, when it became our creed," he said.

Morris had music and dance all around him as he grew up in Seattle.

"We had a piano, and we all sang a lot," he said, and his family nurtured his talents.

"My father taught me music and notation," he said.

His mother introduced him to flamenco and ballet.

Given his affinity for live music with his dance, Tanglewood is a favorite spot for regular visits, and he will welcome in the summer season at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, June 25 and 26, in Seiji Ozawa Hall.

The Tanglewood Music Center, celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer, has commissioned a new piece for Morris' dancers, set to the Max Reger four-hand piano arrangement of J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 1. Morris has created "The" for 16 dancers.

"It's not a reduction — it's an arrangement," he explained. "Nobody knows this piece; it's rarely played or heard. You can't get everything in it as played by that many parts in a band. But it's very interesting."

To hear all that Bach put into this "Brandenburg," Morris will conduct the full chamber orchestra version of the composition. Morris' "Cargo," set to Darius Milhaud's "The Creation of the World," completes the program.

Morris dreamed early of being a flamenco dancer. After study with a couple of teachers in Seattle, he graduated early from high school and traveled to Spain, where he believed that flamenco was beckoning him. The Franco regime soon dissuaded him, and he returned to the U.S., to New York, and eventually hitched up with the companies of Hannah Kohn, Laura Dean and Eliot Feld.

On Nov. 28, 1980, he gathered a group of dancing friends to put on a show of his own choreography and called the aggregation the Mark Morris Dance Group. Only six years later the group found its way to the "Great Performances, Dance in America," series on PBS.

In 1988, Gerard Mortier, then head of the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, approached him. Maurice Bejart suddenly had departed with his ballet company, and Mortier offered Morris the position.

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His troupe became the resident company, the Monnaie Dance Group Mark Morris, and with it came well-equipped offices and studios, full health insurance for him, his dancers and staff and, best of all, an orchestra and chorus at his disposal.

"And that's why I took the job," Morris said.

He has never confined himself to modern dance, venturing into other genres often. He has created eight works for the San Francisco Ballet since 1994 and contributed to the repertory of American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet and the Boston Ballet, and he has directed and choreographed productions for the Metropolitan, New York City, English National and Seattle operas and the Royal Opera at Covent Garden.

Thomas Morris — no relation, former executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra, and before that general manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — chose Mark as the first choreographer to be the music director, in 2013, for the Ojai Music Festival in California, building programs that included scores by Lou Harrison, John Cage and Henry Cowell and other American composers influenced by them.

"Although known to most as a choreographer, Mark is also an amazing musician," Thomas Morris said in an email. "He probably has a more comprehensive knowledge of music and profound understanding of what music means than almost anyone I have met.

"His creative process always starts with a piece of music that intrigues him before he even thinks about the choreography. He then lets the music inspire and lead his choreographic activity."

About future projects, Mark Morris said "the stages of development are always going on. I'm already working with collaborators. I do all the time, and it changes as I go along.

"I live a very interesting life."


What: Mark Morris Dance Group, J.S. Bach "Brandenburg Concerto No. 1," "Cargo,"

Milhaud "The Creation of the World"

When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, June 25 and 26

Where: Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Route 183, Lenox

Admission: $20 to $99



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