For the head of a dance troupe celebrating
its 25th anniversary, Mark Morris sounds pretty blase.
"I guess it just happened," the choreographer says during an exclusive telephone interview with GO Brooklyn.
"I don’t really feel any different, except I’m a lot older now," he says with a laugh. "Our company’s been running well for a long time. I’m very happy, but I never thought I’d have this kind of notoriety. It’s turned into a whole giant thing that’s pretty amazing."
Amazing indeed. In addition to top-notch worldwide appearances for the past quarter-century, the Mark Morris Dance Group has made Brooklyn its permanent home base since 2001, when the Mark Morris Dance Center opened in Fort Greene, across the street from the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House, which has hosted Morris’s troupe since 1984.
The Brooklyn connection runs deep, says Morris.
"Most of our dancers live in Brooklyn, and in the short time we’ve made it our home, there’s always so much happening around the neighborhood," he explains. "Our association with BAM is even longer. Pretty much every year we dance there, and [the Howard Gilman Opera House] is a great theater: a wonderfully well-proportioned house that’s terrific for dance."
The schedule for the month-long silver-anniversary celebration at that "well-proportioned house" includes three evening-length programs, supplemented by a Morris-curated series at the BAM Rose Cinemas, Morris-related performances at the BAMCafe, and shorter dance works at the Mark Morris Dance Center.
The BAM dance programs - running March 8-25 - are a career overview.
"I tried to make these programs as varied as I could," Morris explains. "These are big blow-out dances. For program A (March 8-11), all the dances are basically ’closers,’ or finales." ("V," from 2001, is set to Schumann’s music; 1993’s "Grand Duo" to Lou Harrison’s; and 1981’s "Gloria" to Vivaldi’s.)
Morris has an ace up his sleeve for program A’s finale.
"During ’Gloria,’ I’ll be conducting for the first time!" he enthuses. "One of the first dances I choreographed, we’ve done ’Gloria’ off and on these past 25 years. Frankly, I’ve run out of enthusiasm rehearsing it over and over. So, in order to stay actively stimulated, I decided to conduct!
"It might be foolish, but I don’t think so. My one terror is that the dancers will be watching me and giving me the eye during the performance, but I’m not scared of them," he laughs.
Program B (March 15, 17, 18) is made up of two "dance operas": Virgil Thomson’s "Four Saints in Three Acts" and Henry Purcell’s "Dido and Aeneas." For program C (March 22, 23, 25), Morris is unveiling two New York premieres: "Cargo," to Darius Milhaud’s music, and "Candleflowerdance," to Stravinsky’s.
Morris explains his works’ genesis.
"It’s always because of the music I want to set my dances to," he says. "For ’Cargo,’ I was commissioned by Tanglewood Music Center [in western Massachusetts]. I know that the musicians there are extremely dedicated and that they over-practice, so I chose a piece of music that’s very difficult to play.
"Milhaud’s music calls for 17 soloists, so it’s hard to put a group like that together and have enough rehearsal time, so it’s a challenge for us. Also, I get to hear Milhaud’s music, which I love."
"Morris & the Movies" presents five films chosen by Morris (March 23-27): "Greed," "Cabin in the Sky," "Nashville," "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T" and "Martin."
"We wanted it to be a full immersion - for good or ill - of my taste," Morris says. "It’s five films I love, though they don’t have anything to do with dancing - I re-watch them constantly, and ’Nashville’ is my favorite movie ever."
BAMCafe’s "The Month of Mark" presents musical ensembles chosen by Morris, on Fridays and Saturdays throughout March.
"I didn’t make up that title," he laughingly points out. "I just told them about music I love to hear. My ensemble is playing [March 17], and I’m even running a karaoke night [on March 4]!"
Morris has also curated a program for his own Mark Morris Dance Center.
"We’re doing mostly short works from over the years," he says. "Most are pretty old, and most have a smaller scale, so they don’t need to be done in the opera house. I haven’t seen some of these works in years, so it was fun to return to them."
Choreographing ballet and opera nearly everywhere for the past quarter-century is but a prelude to Morris’s directing debut next season at the Metropolitan Opera House, where he’ll helm a new production of Gluck’s "Orpheus and Eurydice." Naturally, Morris is elated with the new direction of the stodgy old Met.
"Well, if the Met is going in the direction of me, I’m all for it!" said Morris. "It’s going to be wholly different, so it should be a blast."
That also goes for everything Morris presents in Brooklyn in March.
The Mark Morris Dance Group performs at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene, March 8-25, and at the Mark Morris Dance Center, 3 Lafayette Ave. at Flatbush Avenue, March 11, 18 and 25; "Morris & the Movies" runs at the BAMCinematek, 30 Lafayette Ave., March 23-27; and "The Month of Mark" runs at the BAMCafe, at 30 Lafayette Ave., March 3-31. For tickets and information, visit www.bam.org or www.mmdg.org.