Artistic Director’s Notebook: Mark Morris

March 18–27, 2011
Pacific (Lou Harrison/Mark Morris)
The Piano Dance (Cage, Chopin, Ginastera, Bartok, Ligeti/Paul Gibson)
Place a Chill (Camille Saint-Saëns/Marco Goecke)
Concerto DSCH (Dmitri Shostakovich/Alexei Ratmansky)

Mark Morris was born on August 29, 1956 in Seattle, Washington, where he studied with Verla Flowers and Perry Brunson. In the early years of his career, he performed with Lar Lubovitch, Hannah Kahn, Laura Dean, Eliot Feld, and the Koleda Balkan Dance Ensemble. He formed the Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980, and has since created more than 120 works for the company. From 1988–1991, he was Director of Dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels. Among the works created during his tenure were The Hard Nut, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, and Dido and Aeneas. In 1990, he founded the White Oak Dance Project with Mikhail Baryshnikov. He has created six works on the San Francisco Ballet since 1994 and received commissions from American Ballet Theatre and the Boston Ballet, among others. His work is in the repertory of the Geneva Ballet, New Zealand Ballet, Houston Ballet, English National Ballet, and The Royal Ballet. Morris is noted for his musicality—he has been described as “undeviating in his devotion to music”—and for his “ability to conjure so many contradictory styles and emotions.” He has worked extensively in opera, directing and choreographing productions for the New York City Opera, English National Opera, and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. Mr. Morris was named a Fellow of the MacArthur Foundation in 1991. He has received numerous honorary doctorates including the Boston Conservatory of Music, the Juilliard School, Long Island University, Pratt Institute, Bowdoin College, and George Mason University. Mr. Morris is the subject of a biography by Joan Acocella (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). In 2001, he opened the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, New York, his company’s first permanent headquarters in the U.S, housing rehearsal space for the dance community, outreach programs for local children, as well as a school offering dance classes to students of all ages.

PNB principal dancer Lucien Postlewaite in Mark Morris’ Pacific. Photo © Angela Sterling

“Lou Harrison’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano provided the musical inspiration of the Morris commission for San Francisco Ballet’s participation in the United We Dance Festival, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House. I saw it twice. …it is translucent with references not only to the sea, but to the cultures residing on the shores against which the Pacific Ocean surges.”

Renee Renoug, ballet.comagazine

PNB principal dancers Carla Körbes and Batkhurel Bold in Mark Morris’ Pacific. Photo © Angela Sterling

 “Like the title of the dance, the work has multiple connotations, which are underscored by the costumes of Martin Pakledinaz. The bare-chested men wear culottes—full, skirt-like pants that suggest the native dress of Pacific Island and even Indian cultures; the women’s outfits have the same full skirts with simple tops. Blues and greens predominate, with red used for the central couple. The colors evoke the ocean as well as tropical climes. The movement Morris uses also incorporates suggestions of Asian cultures, particularly the Kathak style of southern India: the men (and later the women) repeat a gesture of one arm raised in a curve, the other pointing straight in the opposite direction with the head turned towards the pointing arm. …This is a work that makes you think about its meaning.”

Larry Campbell,

Featured photo: Carla Körbes and Olivier Wevers in Mark Morris’ Pacific