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!