Mary Lynn Slayden

Mark Morris Live from Lincoln Center

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PBS website:

The Mark Morris Dance Group performs Morris' lush and evocative "Mozart Dances" from the New York State Theater. Commissioned by Lincoln Center last year for the 40th anniversary Mostly Mozart Festival, the work premiered to three sold-out houses and wide critical acclaim. The dance is set to three piano works of Mozart performed by music director Louis Langree, soloists Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki, and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra.

Some PBS stations are airing the performance on Friday or Saturday.

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Thanks for the reminder, Mary Lynn.

I saw this at Mostly Mozart last night and will return tomorrow, and I encourage Morris fans and others to watch. Some of the loveliest dance moments I've seen in a very long time are in this work. I just pray the camera work does it justice.

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It can certainly be difficult to find this sort of listing on certain PBS websites. (Newspapers long ago ceased to feature PBS programming, at least out here in the boondocks.)

Of the 3 south Florida pbs tv outlets, the only one I could find to carry this is WPBT -- and that wll be next week. (Monday, 8/20, 9pm -- and Wed. 8/22, 1:30 am).

So, if you're outside NYC, don't assume -- confirm it with the website.

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Is anyone able to record this for a desperate West Coaster? It's not scheduled to air anywhere here (not even on another day) except in Las Vegas and Sacramento - neither of which are near me!

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I did not get the choreography of Mark Morris. It reminded me of abstract art.. and the backdrop of the stage.., visually interesting but I couldn't really relate the choreography to the Mozart. I love Mozart's work. Perhaps I see Mozart's work as a very structured classical type of music and this choreography often seemed so whimsical and almost "goofy" and the movements to my eye often lacked the musicality of ballet. I grew bored and listened more than watched.

Apparently I don't understand Mark Morris and he is not getting through to me. I suppose when you venture off into such individual approaches to dance, you are not going to get to everyone. Can anyone shed some light on what he's doing? The rehearsal bits they showed did not help a bit in my understanding of his work.

There was a telling bit about his biography where he said he was drawn to dance because his love of Flamenco which is a very rigorous structured style of dance.. but when he couldn't make it when off on found his own way. I'll give him credit for getting as far as he did. He's a dance celeb. But I am not familiar with his work except these pieces and was not impressed.

What's the buzz about MM about?

The bit about Beverly Sills was very enjoyable, I wished that had more of her singing and less MCing and smiling. She had done some amazing performances and she should be remembered as an artist primarily and a arts supporter cheerleader second. My sense... usually wrong.

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I did not get the choreography of Mark Morris. It reminded me of abstract art.. and the backdrop of the stage.., visually interesting but I couldn't really relate the choreography to the Mozart. I love Mozart's work. Perhaps I see Mozart's work as a very structured classical type of music and this choreography often seemed so whimsical and almost "goofy" and the movements to my eye often lacked the musicality of ballet. I grew bored and listened more than watched.

Apparently I don't understand Mark Morris and he is not getting through to me. I suppose when you venture off into such individual approaches to dance, you are not going to get to everyone. Can anyone shed some light on what he's doing? The rehearsal bits they showed did not help a bit in my understanding of his work.

There was a telling bit about his biography where he said he was drawn to dance because his love of Flamenco which is a very rigorous structured style of dance.. but when he couldn't make it when off on found his own way. I'll give him credit for getting as far as he did. He's a dance celeb. But I am not familiar with his work except these pieces and was not impressed.

What's the buzz about MM about?

Sander, I find your reaction a bit puzzling--not the "what's the buzz" part; I too am prone to be skeptical when there's SO MUCH hype about one particular artist, usually at the expense of so many others. (In this regard Acocella's critism in the latest New Yorker was refreshingly critical.) And as for bored by a choregrapher's work, that's a matter of personal taste, to be sure. But it's your sense that MM's approach is somehow so idiosyncratic as to be unrecognizable. Have you seen Paul Taylor's or Lar Lubovitch's work? There are to my eyes many points of similarity--in the dance/gesture vocabularies, phrasing, and musical impulses. And with all of the daisy chain formations, and the direct responses to music, there are in my mind so many explicit allusions to Balanchine. I see what you mean by MM's "goofiness" (another Taylor allusion?), but the choreography is to my eye highly structured and musical--sometimes slavishly so, some think ("as if it's a crime," MM retorts). In short, MM's work is not commonly considered to be wildly form-breaking--and I think there's critical consensus on that.

So perhaps you need to articulate, for me at least, a moment where you were particularly confused or confounded.

And why is it unsatisfying for a dance to remind you of abstract art? I can think of more than a few Balanchine works I could say that about.

BTW I hated the way they filmed it for PBS--all those cutaways to the musicians, as if the movements of their playing were as important to see as the movements/formations of the dancers!

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Ray,

I am unfamiliar w/ MM's work and this was my first exposure so my feelings were based on a very small sample space. I am also an uneducated dance goer, but have been attending on and off for decades and now with more frequency ballet, which I find more interesting for any number of reasons. I have seen PT and I thought he work was very energetic and inspiring. Mind you, not all of the MM was unappealing, but too much of it was. It's a personal thing of course, and I may grow to like his work.

Nothing the matter with abstract art except when I don't like it. There is good non objective art in my opinion and junk. Lots of art today is meant to make you think and is less about "aesthetics". I thought the smudges were visually interesting, but not something I would "hang on my wall".

I suppose, I have opened up to more classical forms in dance which is where ballet is coming from and like classical architecture it has a certain richness that Gehry lacks. Classical expressions have endured for millennium and I suppose that there is an underlying reason for that. Frankly I don't think a lot of what we are shown as modern dance will survive the test of time, but surely some of it will and it should. I can't be more articulate because I only giving my gut reaction. I don't the wide perspective of others, just the narrow prism I see the world through.

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Ray,

I am unfamiliar w/ MM's work and this was my first exposure so my feelings were based on a very small sample space. I am also an uneducated dance goer, but have been attending on and off for decades and now with more frequency ballet, which I find more interesting for any number of reasons. I have seen PT and I thought he work was very energetic and inspiring. Mind you, not all of the MM was unappealing, but too much of it was. It's a personal thing of course, and I may grow to like his work.

Nothing the matter with abstract art except when I don't like it. There is good non objective art in my opinion and junk. Lots of art today is meant to make you think and is less about "aesthetics". I thought the smudges were visually interesting, but not something I would "hang on my wall".

I suppose, I have opened up to more classical forms in dance which is where ballet is coming from and like classical architecture it has a certain richness that Gehry lacks. Classical expressions have endured for millennium and I suppose that there is an underlying reason for that. Frankly I don't think a lot of what we are shown as modern dance will survive the test of time, but surely some of it will and it should. I can't be more articulate because I only giving my gut reaction. I don't the wide perspective of others, just the narrow prism I see the world through.

Again, Sander, I won't argue taste--if I had a wall big enough, those gorgeous "smudges" would be right up there on it! I'm just trying to understand what about MM's movement, especially in relation to the music, struck you as -- dissonant? It's a reaction that's blindsided me, as, again, MM is more often criticized for being a slave to the music. While I've never seen MM described as "neoclassical," that appelation is implicit in a lot of the discussion around MM's work. Yet you see it as--boring chaos?

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There was a telling bit about his biography where he said he was drawn to dance because his love of Flamenco which is a very rigorous structured style of dance.. but when he couldn't make it when off on found his own way. I'll give him credit for getting as far as he did. He's a dance celeb.

Just as a small point of information -- MM's dance background is not as limited as the show implied in the brief bio. He studied ballet, I don't remember with whom. He worked for Lubovitch, Feld and others. He also was involved in the White Oaks project along with Baryshnikov.

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Mark Morris gave ballet class at the University of Washington. I'm not sure if he was on the teaching faculty or in more of an adjunct position.

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There is something to be said for the idea that a presentation needs to stand on its merits. Of course we all bring our own experiences to the theater or presentation. I used the term "goofy" to describe some of what I saw. I don't know what other word to use. It was movement. I don't know how to place value judgments on movement .. serious, less serious, whimsical, goofy and so on. There were things about his choreography I simply did not understand. Why are some of the pieces only men? Or only women? There are so many things I simply could not make sense of, if that is the right word. I suppose I am a prisoner of context and when I have a conflicting context I am confused. I think that is a valid response. I am sorry for my poor communication skills.

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There is something to be said for the idea that a presentation needs to stand on its merits.

Sure...I guess...although I don't know a single living soul that doesn't interpret the "merits" that she sees. Anyway, that's the nature of my inquiry into your reactions to MM: the "presentation" seems to me to stand very well on its merits (which, pace Acocella, are formidable). I just want to try to understand your reaction because my gut reaction was pure pleasure; the faults I found were more nitpicky and became apparent to me only after deliberation (and, again, my natural inclination to interrogate work that's so universally praised.)

In short, we had exactly the opposite initial reactions and I'm curious as to why.

P.S. You say "I don't know how to place value judgments on movement," but I bet that's not true: a slap has a different value than a pat, right?

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SanderO, if you haven't already read it, you might find the previous Ballet Alert thread about "Mozart Dances" helpful.

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SanderO, you may be interested in Laura Jacobs' assessment of Mark Morris in her book, Landscape With Moving Figures: A Decade on Dance (Contemporary Discourse on Movement and Dance) . Each essay in the book was published previously in The New Criterion.

To say she's not a fan of Morris's recent work is an understatement. For example, this quoted by in Joy Goodwin's review in the New York Sun:

"It's time for Mark Morris to bounce out of his sterile utopia and get some damned life back into his dances

Edited to add: I just found the link to her Morris chapter, written in 2003, in The New Criterion's online archives:

http://newcriterion.com:81/archive/21/jun03/jacobs.htm

Here's the concluding paragraph:

Happiness -- artistic, social, emotional, physical --is palpably absent from Morris's recent work. Sadness is missing too. In truth, there's no real emotion. Does Morris derive pleasure making these dances? One doesn't see it. Add up all the arch absurdities, patty-cake postures, formalities dumbed-down, genres camped-up, nonsense pretending to insight, Pepsodent grins patronizing the music, and you have a choreographic realm that is completely artificial, a hybrid of the very artifice Morris originally sought to avoid. Only a self-congratulatory audience could enjoy this stuff, as it's the only audience that won't see what isn't there. Those who all these years have supported Morris with unconditional love -- extravagant praise for middling effort, qualified praise for bad work -- have hurt him. The boy's in a bubble. It's time for Mark Morris to bounce out of his sterile utopia and get some damned life back into his dances.

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Edited to add: I just found the link to her Morris chapter, written in 2003, in The New Criterion's online archives:

http://newcriterion.com:81/archive/21/jun03/jacobs.htm

Here's the concluding paragraph:

Happiness -- artistic, social, emotional, physical --is palpably absent from Morris's recent work. Sadness is missing too. In truth, there's no real emotion. Does Morris derive pleasure making these dances? One doesn't see it. Add up all the arch absurdities, patty-cake postures, formalities dumbed-down, genres camped-up, nonsense pretending to insight, Pepsodent grins patronizing the music, and you have a choreographic realm that is completely artificial, a hybrid of the very artifice Morris originally sought to avoid. Only a self-congratulatory audience could enjoy this stuff, as it's the only audience that won't see what isn't there. Those who all these years have supported Morris with unconditional love -- extravagant praise for middling effort, qualified praise for bad work -- have hurt him. The boy's in a bubble. It's time for Mark Morris to bounce out of his sterile utopia and get some damned life back into his dances.

Great, provocative stuff, Helene! Thanks for unearthing that for our deliberations.

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[sanderO] It reminded me of abstract art ...

Interesting. I don’t think of Morris as a particularly “abstract” choreographer – no more “abstract” than Balanchine, for instance. I find his work to be emotionally legible in the much the same way that Balanchine’s is – there’s no narrative that one can really articulate in words, but there’s definitely a “story.” In contrast, I find Forsythe and Elo, for example, to be very abstract – no stories there at all, really, just states-of-being. (Wheeldon has it both ways in After the Rain.)

I like Morris’ work a lot, and find it plenty formal in its overall structure, but I did find the bodies very difficult to “read” at first since my previous dance watching experience consisted primarily of Balanchine, Robbins, Cunningham, Taylor, and Graham – and to my eyes those choreographers (and ballet in general) deploy the body in very clearly delineated shapes that hew closely to an ideal armature or grid, whether in motion or in stasis. Morris’ dancers’ bodies don’t quite do that – I’m not suggesting that it is actually so, but in motion at least, their placement looks somehow “approximate” – i.e., not working to an ideal plane: they’re not exactly turned out, but they’re not exactly not turned out either. (Interestingly enough, the shapes Morris’ dancers make look much more clearly delineated and carefully placed in still photos than they do live or in video.) It took me a while to get my head wrapped around this.

I find Morris’ choreography for soloists relatively (and I stress relatively) uninteresting. But his work for two or more dancers – now that I find thoroughly engaging and affecting. To me, these larger shapes seem to resonate more and carry more meaning than the solo work does, and his vocabulary for groups seems richer than his vocabulary for soloists.

Personally, I like the goofy stuff too. The second section of Mozart Dances is high on my list of favorite Morris, but my absolute favorite Morris is when the deliriously joyful Hard Nut Snowflakes explode handfuls of glitter skyward as they hurtle full tilt across the stage – it makes me laugh out loud from sheer delight every single time. The mix of bodies and genders in the same tutus-n-snowcone crown costumes is just wonderful – as if Morris decided to take the inverse of Balanchine and put “everybody -- the world” on stage to get sixteen girls ...

Anyway, I'm heading off to see Mozart Dances again tonight and I'm really looking forward to it!

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Joan Acocella's piece on this program, "Mozart Moves: Mark Morris at Lincoln Center," is in this weeks's (8/20) New Yorker, and is available on line here:

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/danc...ancing_acocella

I especially like her high regard for his dancers:

[ ... ] [T]hese people are accomplishing wonders, and they don't seem to know it. They have no "stage manner," no narcissism. Neither are they closed. They are simply frank and regular: people doing a dance.

[ ... ] How does Morris get his dancers to perform so unaffectedly? I don't know the answer, and I almost don't want to know -- I want to believe they're just that way -- but here's something that Morris told me when we talked last summer: that, in making the women's dance in "Eleven" so severe, he was trying to extend them. When women put on pretty dresses and dance to Mozart, he said, they tend to go into "a group hug." He didn't want that; he forced them to be sharp and hard. With the men, it was the opposite. They're used to being hard, so he made them "dance in circles, nourishing, nesting."

There's quite a bit more. It's a superb piece. And it convinces you that Morris's dancers, under his tutelage, have indeed become a "great" ensemble of artists. I can't wait to see them again ... :FIREdevil:

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Just caught half of the PBS telecast--no local promos of course, so thanks for "Heads Up" at BT. I do agree with some of the queries of SanderO, and some of Ray's (et.al.) answers. Yes, I saw choreographic similarities to other contemporaries, better use of groups than individuals, and whimsy; in fact, that ironic glint is something I actually look for in his work. But the one thing I ALWAYS see in MM (unlike SanderO) is the musicality--even that "slavish" literal interpretation of each and every note--which sometimes I am VERY glad to see, and other times wish he would break free. I didn't mind the splotchy backdrops and the insertion of some color--beside lighting--into the monochrome costuming. Overall, though I appreciate MM, the chances to see him work, and the many many ways he has brought dance into the lives of people who normally never have a chance to see it, I do prefer women on pointe and classical structure.

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BTW I hated the way they filmed it for PBS--all those cutaways to the musicians, as if the movements of their playing were as important to see as the movements/formations of the dancers!

I rather like seeing a pianist's hands, but that could have been shown from time to time in a small window at lower screen left or right, rather than cutting away from the stage. I suppose the producers are afraid we'll be bored if the cameras don't move around whenever they can. With televised orchestra concerts it's even worse. But then again, people sitting at a live performance manage somehow to enjoy it without leaving their seats every two minutes to get a different view. For dance, I think the ideal solution is to place a camera dead center and mostly leave it there, so you always have the full stage perspective, except for closeups of solo dancers where there is no other stage activity.

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BTW I hated the way they filmed it for PBS--all those cutaways to the musicians, as if the movements of their playing were as important to see as the movements/formations of the dancers!
Ray, I can identify with your frustration, as a dance lover. But I can also imagine the producers thinking of this as a joint music/dance production, and realizing that a certain percentage of the audience might be there for Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki. After all, it's "Mozart Dances" (ambiguously phrased) rather than "Dancing to Mozart."

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"Mozart Dances" is Morris' title of his work, but the performance is part of the Mostly Mozart Festival. I didn't see the broadcast, so I don't know what sort of context this was placed in, but acknowledgment of the musical emphasis of MoMo -- discretely inserted -- seems very appropriate.

The bit about Beverly Sills was very enjoyable, I wished that had more of her singing and less MCing and smiling.
A tribute, I'm sure, from her Live from LC colleagues to her contributions as series host for so many years.

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BTW I hated the way they filmed it for PBS--all those cutaways to the musicians, as if the movements of their playing were as important to see as the movements/formations of the dancers!
Ray, I can identify with your frustration, as a dance lover. But I can also imagine the producers thinking of this as a joint music/dance production, and realizing that a certain percentage of the audience might be there for Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki. After all, it's "Mozart Dances" (ambiguosly phrased) rather than "Dancing to Mozart."

I can see your point, but if that was their concern, I wish they would have billed the program so as to clarify what it was -- or else billed it as "Mark Morris' "Mozart Dances, interrupted by shots of Emmanuel Ax." He's fun to watch, and I especially enjoyed the sonata footage, but Morris put him in the pit, where ticketholders in many of the best seats can't see him even if they want to, and I wish Live from Lincoln Center would have given us the work he conceived and not tried to make it all things to all people.

I'd seen little of Morris' work before last night and I'm still sorting out my feelings about this piece, but I was moved in many places, by the camaraderie in "Double," for example, and by the dignified opening of the adagio for "Eleven," where the dancers stride on stage one by one and stop at various places, all facing the same direction.

It took me awhile to get past the black and filmy outfits in "Eleven," which struck me as some sort of dreary bedroom-wear. The color black itself seemed at first a strange choice for Mozart, but it grew on me: he himself supplies enough color, so to speak, so that Lauren Grant's simple black dress seemed fitting. And I much prefer it to the sort of pastel prettiness I can imagine from a ballet company.

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In the Upper Room has amazing use of color... but it also has that continual anticipation of the never to come crescendo Philip Glass music. Don't you feel drained after seeing it. Like good sex or doing a double diamond shalom without falling? I think Twyla would do... if she hasn't done already... some incredible choreography to Mozart with great color. I don't know how much choreographers think about color... but they should.

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BTW I hated the way they filmed it for PBS--all those cutaways to the musicians, as if the movements of their playing were as important to see as the movements/formations of the dancers!
Ray, I can identify with your frustration, as a dance lover. But I can also imagine the producers thinking of this as a joint music/dance production, and realizing that a certain percentage of the audience might be there for Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki. After all, it's "Mozart Dances" (ambiguosly phrased) rather than "Dancing to Mozart."

I can see your point, but if that was their concern, I wish they would have billed the program so as to clarify what it was -- or else billed it as "Mark Morris' "Mozart Dances, interrupted by shots of Emmanuel Ax." He's fun to watch, and I especially enjoyed the sonata footage, but Morris put him in the pit, where ticketholders in many of the best seats can't see him even if they want to, and I wish Live from Lincoln Center would have given us the work he conceived and not tried to make it all things to all people.

Thank you, kfw; very well put. I mean we should think of the analogue in music or opera: what if they just stopped playing the music or singing in the middle of a piece to cut away to something else? I really got the sense from whoever was doing the editing that "the dancers are repeating movement, so it's ok now to cut away to Ax." Again, think opera--the Queen of the Night in Magic Flute repeats quite a few vocal lines!

Plus I wasn't crazy about the camera work even when it was focused on the dancers--too many closeups at inappropriate times, to my taste.

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In the Upper Room has amazing use of color... but it also has that continual anticipation of the never to come crescendo Philip Glass music. Don't you feel drained after seeing it. Like good sex or doing a double diamond shalom without falling? I think Twyla would do... if she hasn't done already... some incredible choreography to Mozart with great color. I don't know how much choreographers think about color... but they should.

Shen Wei is a modern choreographer who I think is very sensitive to color.

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