Those who doubt that Brooklyn is a center
for both fashion and modern dance should take note of the friendship
and decade-long collaboration between two important figures in
each sphere - Isaac Mizrahi and Mark Morris.
Morris, whose dance troupe is in Fort Greene, and Mizrahi, who hails from Midwood have collaborated on costumes for the Mark Morris Dance Group since 1993.
The dance group will kick off another fresh slate of performances Tuesday night, at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, and over the course of five days, they will perform two programs featuring four New York premieres. Also featured will be already beloved dances such as "V," dedicated to the city of New York.
Expect another eclectic pair of programs of utterly original dance and music, and as always, a parade of dynamic costumes.
"Everyone will have to come twice to see everything," Morris told GO Brooklyn in a telephone interview from Boston, his troupe’s last stop before they return to their dance center on Lafayette Avenue.
Among the four New York premieres will be "Serenade," a solo work performed by Morris, and the ensemble piece "Resurrection," both with costumes by Mizrahi.
While Mizrahi has had other irons in the fire, such as his current "Isaac Mizrahi Show" on the Oxygen cable channel and his new line of sportswear and accessories to be launched in August at Target stores, he continues to be a loyal conduit channeling Morris’ visions into costumes as dynamic as the performances of the dancers who wear them.
"The first thing he designed for me was ’Three Preludes’ to Gershwin’s music, 10 years ago," said Morris. "We were friends before I asked him to work with me, but you don’t want to automatically ask your friends to design for you, because what if you don’t like it?"
Morris calls Mizrahi his "best friend," and Mizrahi concurs.
"We tend to laugh at the same jokes and cry at the same tragedies," Mizrahi told GO Brooklyn. "And we tend to like the same movies and love the same plays. Our tastes and the way we think are in line, so at this point, it’s like a crazy psychic thing."
The two work together like composer and lyricist.
"Isaac loves music and dance and is very knowledgeable," said Morris. "He knows my aesthetic and I his. So it’s very interesting and comfortable and still a challenge every time."
Said Mizrahi, "Usually, because I know his work so well, and we’ve worked so well together in the past, I get a sense of what he’s hearing in the music. I get a sense of what he likes about the music, and suddenly it suggests a color to me, or no colors to me."
In the case of "Resurrection," the dance set to Richard Rodgers’ "Slaughter on 10th Avenue," the designer drew only black and white.
"For some reason, the music never suggested a color or range of colors, the way so much music usually does," said Mizrahi.
"It’s dazzling music. It suggested patterns to me, just classic patterns and black and white ... That’s what I see, when I hear that music," he said. "I thought I would create these patterns for 16 dancers all in black and white.
"It makes the dancers individuals, yet like a herd of dancers," Mizrahi continued. "Everyone belongs to a flock or a tribe. Then the two leads are in reverse prints: black background with white figures."
Morris, who said Mizrahi’s costumes "are never what I think it’s going to be," likes these dynamic ensembles.
"The costumes for ’Resurrection’ are fabulous, beautiful, very active-looking costumes," he said. "They are big prints, almost in black-and-white, that refer to the ’30s, which is when the music was written. But that’s the only nod to that."
Morris told Mizrahi that he was looking for a more cinematic quality for this dance.
"They are not bright," pointed out Mizrahi. "They are dulled down, as opposed to vivid. He didn’t want them to be bright. I think he wanted a smoldering quality to the whole thing, like an actual black-and-white movie."
’Serenade’ for a friend
Again limiting his palette to black and white, Mizrahi created an Asian-inspired, formal ensemble for Morris to wear in "Serenade," which Morris choreographed to music by his friend of 15 years, composer Lou Harrison. Morris will be dancing to Harrison’s "Serenade for Guitar."
This "very, very new" piece just premiered March 6 at the George Mason Concert Hall in Fairfax, Va.
"[Serenade] was always made for me," said Morris. "Lou Harrison was a very good friend of mine. Although I was using this music anyway, he died right before I began choreographing, so it underscored it. This is a dance for Lou.
"It’s guitar with percussion and me in five movements," said Morris. "Lou is a big expert in many kinds of music, so it refers to Asian music quite a bit: Turkish and Indonesian. And a little bit, I guess, of that Asian point of view is in the dance."
Mizrahi said the music conjured a decidedly restrained costume motif.
"When I heard that Lou Harrison music, the white straight jacket thing came in a flash," said Mizrahi. "When I sketched it, Mark said, ’That’s funny, that’s what I was thinking.’"
Morris was happy with what Mizrahi’s designed for "Serenade."
"To me it looks Korean, although it’s not. It’s a tightly wrapped white jacket with a black ankle-length linen skirt," he said. "It’s like a dress with a jacket over it; it doesn’t look like a suit. It looks very Japanese or Korean, and ties in the back. It’s very high necked and quite elegant and formal. Beautiful."
Morris said he would even play some instruments in "Serenade": finger cymbals and castanets.
"Go figure, I needed something to do with my hands," he said dryly.
Just as Mizrahi does not design exclusively for the Mark Morris Dance Group (he has also designed for Twyla Tharp, Bill T. Jones and Mikhail Baryshnikov), Morris also works with his other "frequent, habitual or preferred designers," including Marty Pakledinaz - who invented the delicious confections worn in December’s sold-out performances of "The Hard Nut" at BAM and who designed the costumes for "V" to be danced this week - and in-house wardrobe supervisor Katherine McDowell.
"Other times, I have a good idea of what I want," said Morris, who turns his ideas over to McDowell, who designed this week’s "Kolam" and "Something Lies Beyond the Scene."
"She shops it or puts it together. She works for me full-time in wardrobe," said Morris.
The Asian influence carries over to "Kolam," named for an Indian folk art form that uses powders to draw intricate geometric designs. The music of "Kolam" was composed by Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain and former Mark Morris music director, the pianist Ethan Iverson.
"It’s a new dance that’s quite directly based on the impression of Indian dance," said Morris. "It’s not an Indian dance by any stretch, but it refers to it."
Mizrahi will return to Brooklyn on March 25 to co-host the Mark Morris Dance Group gala fundraiser with actress Isabella Rossellini.
While the Morris-Mizrahi collaboration has produced fun parties and many beautiful productions over the years, Mizrahi said he was particularly proud of "Platee."
"Because it’s such a grand costume epic," he said, but then added that his greatest collaboration with Morris still lies ahead.
"I’m even more proud of what we’re doing this year: ’King Arthur,’ an opera by Henry Purcell. I’m even more proud of that because, in my mind, it’s the most incredible thing in the world," said Mizrahi. "I have an incredibly beautiful idea. I can’t wait to execute it."
Mark Morris Dance Group will perform Program A ["New Love Song Waltzes" (1982), "Serenade" (2003), "Going Away Party" (1990) and "Kolam" (2002)] on March 25, 27 and 28 at 7:30 pm. Program B ["Resurrection" (2002), "Something Lies Beyond the Scene" (2002) and "Foursome" (2002)] is on March 26 and March 29 at 7:30 pm, and March 30 at 3 pm. Tickets are $60, $40 and $20. For tickets call (718) 636-4100 or visit www.bam.org.
For more information about the MMDG Benefit Gala Performance and Party on March 25, call (718) 624-8400, ext. 206.