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Mark Morris "Layla and Majnun" at the Kennedy Center

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My arm got twisted into  attending the Mark Morris/Silk Road Ensemble production of Layla and Majnun at the Kennedy Center last night (3/23). I simply do not understand the critics' fascination with Mark Morris. I found it, like most of the other Mark Morris works that I've watched, to be a big nothingburger - simplistic, repetitious choreography set to droning, repetitious Middle Eastern music - but a google search found lots of fawning reviews (including in the Washington Post). For the most part, the show consisted of 2 dancers - playing Layla and Majnun (the program had 5 parts, and a different pair of dancers played the lead characters in each part) - dancing at the same time but not together, while 10 other dancers milled about or sat or lounged on the stage (which I found distracting). I didn't see anything particularly challenging - I've seen student productions at local colleges that looked more difficult than this. I found the story impossible to follow without reference to the supertitles (the singing was in Azerbaijani). Even my accomplice, who in general likes Mark Morris, conceded that the program was "20 minutes of dance stretched out to an hour". What don't I get?

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In a way, Morris resembles Balanchine in that he is very influenced by the music he uses -- if you don't like the score, you probably won't like the dance.  His critics used to complain that he was too wedded to the music, but I think that was partially a reaction to his context.  Coming from the downtown dance scene he was working among artists who were not especially interested in musicality. 

He's always reminded me of his modern dance heritage -- I see Graham and Humphrey in his work often, alongside the folkdance influences.  The dancing is difficult (I took a couple of workshops back in my dancey days, and what might seem simple on the surface is rhythmically quite subtle) but it doesn't have a conventional virtuosity -- the biggest skills are in working with the group. 

For me, one of the satisfying aspects of the work is its structural integrity.  I see a great deal of dancing that doesn't seem to start at the start and doesn't know how to finish at the end -- I never find that with Morris' choreography.

If I may ask, what other work of his have you seen?

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6 hours ago, sandik said:

If I may ask, what other work of his have you seen?

Mark Morris Dance appears at George Mason University yearly (except this year), so I've seen whatever they've presented since 2015. I never cared to remember what the names of the pieces were.

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The best case for the defense is Joan Acocella's book. Croce also admired his early work. On occasion I have thought that Morris follows the music rather literally in a way I don't associate with Balanchine. (I also find it irksome the way he goes on and on about his own musicality in interviews, also something I don't associate with Balanchine, but I try not to let that affect my judgment.) Haven't seen the company for some time. I enjoyed some of the short works he's done for San Francisco Ballet. The evening-length Sylvia he did for the company received considerable praise but I thought it weak.

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7 hours ago, YouOverThere said:

Mark Morris Dance appears at George Mason University yearly (except this year), so I've seen whatever they've presented since 2015. I never cared to remember what the names of the pieces were.

I ask only because I think there are some of his works that are more in tune with a classical aesthetic and thought they might resonate with you.  I've been watching him since the very early days, since he's often in Seattle, and I've always loved the big classical works like Gloria and L'Allegro.

47 minutes ago, dirac said:

 (I also find it irksome the way he goes on and on about his own musicality in interviews, also something I don't associate with Balanchine, but I try not to let that affect my judgment.)

It's ironical -- I think he winds up talking about this aspect of his work so often because he's asked the same questions so often, in part based in that Croce article way back when.

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Posted (edited)

 I didn't see it but do like the strings in the beginning from YoYo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zbq5b-NRvmg   The program is international so I expected a good WP review.  This was a co-commission with the Kennedy Center and   Discalced, Inc. (Mark Morris Dance Group) got a $60,000 NEA grant in 2016.   What does Acocella mean by " like a Russian tenor"  singing comparison?  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/13/mark-morris-azerbaijani-epic 

 
Edited by maps

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5 hours ago, sandik said:

I ask only because I think there are some of his works that are more in tune with a classical aesthetic and thought they might resonate with you.  I've been watching him since the very early days, since he's often in Seattle, and I've always loved the big classical works like Gloria and L'Allegro.

No big works - always 3 or 4 pieces/program.

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3 hours ago, YouOverThere said:

No big works - always 3 or 4 pieces/program.

I don't want to push, but if you get the chance to see L'Allegro or Mozart Dances, you might enjoy it more than you think.

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I'm a Mark Morris fangirl, but I confess that I wanted to see Layla and Majnun for the music — and most specifically for the opportunity to hear Alim Qasimov and his daughter Fergana Qasimova. (Alas, the calendar was working against me and I wasn't able to catch any of the NYC performances.)

You can listen to the Qasimovs in performance on Spotify here. I think it's really beautiful, but of course your mileage may vary.

And yes, I think L'Allegro is a good place to start with Morris. PBS recorded a performance as part of its Great Performances series, and made it available for viewing online.  BUT NOTE: TODAY (March 26 2018) IS THE LAST DAY THAT IT WILL BE AVAILABLE! So drop what you're doing and go watch it now.

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I’ve enjoyed his “Pacific”, “Drink to Me Only With Mine Eyes”, and “Sandpiper Ballet”.  Wish PNB would do his “Sylvia”.  

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42 minutes ago, Jayne said:

Wish PNB would do his “Sylvia”.  

I do, too.  Especially since SFB made sets and costumes, and they've only done it twice, the second time not long after the premiere. (Now I'm casting it in my head...)

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I'd be very curious to see his Sylvia. 

I saw L and M here close to its premiere -- it's not my favorite of his work, but I was fascinated with the music.

Now off to watch L'Allegro!

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16 hours ago, Helene said:

I do, too.  Especially since SFB made sets and costumes, and they've only done it twice, the second time not long after the premiere. (Now I'm casting it in my head...)

We seriously need a “fantasy season” thread where we can design seasons and cast them.  

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31 minutes ago, Jayne said:

We seriously need a “fantasy season” thread where we can design seasons and cast them.  

I've thought about a "fantasy" thread - for any ballet by any choreographer. What fun that could be!

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3 hours ago, ABT Fan said:

I've thought about a "fantasy" thread - for any ballet by any choreographer. What fun that could be!

Let's do it!

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On 3/27/2018 at 2:46 PM, Jayne said:

We seriously need a “fantasy season” thread where we can design seasons and cast them.  

My suggested theme for a season would be "Making Arabesques Great Again".

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Ok, I started a thread over in "Everything Else Ballet" for a fantasy ballet company -- bring your thoughts here.

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Posted (edited)

I had a pretty good time watching "Layla and Majnun" here in Chicago (16 & 17th March, in the Harris theater) by using my habitual method, looking to see how the movements fit the sounds.  I usually turn out for one of Morris's shows because he seems to me to hear very well, if not so well as George Balanchine, whose best choreographies are the high-water mark for me in this regard.  (Can this be what some people mean by "musicality"?  There are certainly choreographers who don't seem to hear well or who hear very differently from them, and that can give me problems.)  

Not only that, Morris's movement vocabulary of the moment usually seems less rich to me than Balanchine's, which he developed further from his rich heritage - although, that said, in "Layla" there seemed to be a lot of unique movement expressive of music unique in my experience.  

But one of the rewards of this approach is that I may see how a choreographer hears music I've never heard before, as here.  The choreography has the effect of pointing out the events in the musical progression, as the music informs the visible activity, and the whole experience becomes, well, more whole, stronger, a visit to a larger world.

The whole of "Layla" being so new to me, when I watched it a second time (from a slightly different seat), I saw things I hadn't the first time and enjoyed it again, and felt I might yet again when I had the chance.  I liked the music, too, but that has not always been necessary; sometimes in the past I've learned from a choreographer a second way of listening to music I didn't like hearing it on its own.  (Stravinsky's Violin Concerto, for example.) 

 The supertitles were a big help in following the gist of the narrative - the story - for me too, and I may still have a long way to go to get all of that - not to mention the effect of the four couples in the title roles - if I ever do.  If ever this world becomes familiar, or something. 

Edited by Jack Reed

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