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Mark Morris on PNB


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I don't think Stowell's choreography is weaker than Helgi Tomasson's -- I've seen an equal amount of work by both of them -- and Tomasson's had a far more established company and dance audience when he took over the reigns. Russell/Stowell introduced the audience to Forsythe, van Manen, Tudor, Duato, Caniparoli -- who is part of SFB -- Tharp, Limon, Hynd, and Fonte, for example, as well as encouraged Paul Gibson's choreography. I don't see a huge aesthetic difference here. Morris has choreographed for SFB for a number of years.

Given the history, I'm fairly certain that Morris doesn't like Stowell and, possibly, Russell.

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I've been pretty busy the past few weeks, so very few posts. But I happened to read this article at lunch the other day and my eyebrows definitely went up. Artists are not always diplomats, but they are often opinionated, and even ornery about others' work. There is a reason we have the phrase "artistic temperment". I don't agree with Morris about the Stowells, but I did feel their final few years they brought in a few duds for mixed programs. I saw Stowell's Cinderella about 10 days ago and I thought it was one of Stowell's lesser efforts. But I look forward to Nutcracker and Swan Lake. These were both staged around the same time period. Cinderella and Carmina Burana were both choreographed later in his career and I like them less (but I don't think they are trash by any means).

I do understand the negative reaction to Seattle boosterism - a sure sign of cringing provincialism. When you really are the best you don't have to shout it out that you're "World Class". On the other hand it is important to set high performance goals. In that respect I think PNB is very beloved in Seattle, and for the right reasons. Maybe Stowell and Russell are not everyone's cup of tea, but I do think they produced a jewel of a company that gave many dancers wonderful performance careers, staged Balanchine beautifully, and supported the growth and viability of many other choreographers (which Helene generously listed). I would also add that the wonderful designers Martin Pakledinaz and Maurice Sendak also found fertile ground in Seattle and gave us feasts for the eyes to enjoy for years to come.

There are a lot of companies that wish Stowell and Francia had brought their considerable talents to build a well respected creative dance company to their cities. Pity the cities that lack viable ballet companies.

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I don't see a huge aesthetic difference here. Morris has choreographed for SFB for a number of years.

I'm not that familiar with Stowell's stuff but I had the same thought.

When you really are the best you don't have to shout it out that you're "World Class".

Morris might take that under advisement.

Thank you for posting the article, Ray. Do you suppose it's possible, however, to consign "part of the conversation," "national conversation," etc., to the Island of Lost Hackphrases, at least temporarily? Perhaps election season is getting to me, but the next writer or pundit who says "national conversation" or some variation thereof may be receiving some anthrax in the mail. Sorry, I digress.

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You're right, I should be more direct: people should have been more critical of the Stowell-Russell regime long ago. There really was no "conversation"; the press (mostly) loved them, and detractors were mostly silent.

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Alas, the term "conversation" has been overused lately, which frustrates me since I like it, and feel it describes a specific situation, but perhaps the general populace will shift its allegiance to something else soon.

Nevertheless, I think that this exchange ("discussion?") does point to some ongoing differences that we have in the dance community. Since Seattle is my home base, I'm probably not unbiased, but I think that fundamentally Morris and Stowell/Russell have been engaged in two different projects. Establishing a mixed repertory company (whatever its core technique) that has its roots in a specific community is very different than creating an ensemble that will perform and preserve the work of a singular artist. Yes, the final product in both cases is a dance institution, but they are not the same kind of company and they aren't made in the same way.

Morris is an incredibly gifted artist, and has been working along his own path for years, which is exactly what he should be doing -- we've been fortunate to watch his development all this time and I look forward to any chance I have to see his work. But in a good year that chance comes around once or twice -- PNB is my hometown company and I'm affected by their trajectory much more intensely. I haven't always agreed with the decisions taken by any of their directors, from Leon Kalimos to the present, but that's my job. Over time, their efforts built a great company, with a stable (well, stable for dance!) structure, a varied repertory and a history of developing wonderful dancers.

I'll be thrilled to see whatever it is that Morris has made for the company, in part because my interest in his work and in PNB are overlapping, but also because I know he will show me different aspects of dancers that I think I know well.

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I don't think Mark Morris has had to worry about being considered "world class" for decades. With Paul Taylor, he's one of the prominent living modern dance choreographers, his company is in demand, he's choreographing new work to good-to-excellent reviews on a regular basis, and he's got an institution, complete with school. He's only 56 years old, and the second generation after his is now 16-year-old, just a few years away from joining his company.

On Sunday, Michael Upchurch wrote a preview (Links, 28 Oct) of PNB's upcoming "All Premiere" program, for which Morris has choreographed "Kammermusik No. 3,":

The 56-year-old Seattle native, interviewed in August, was forthright about his history with PNB. An early work of his, "Brummagem," was performed in PNB's 1978 "Summer Inventions" workshop, but he soured on the company after PNB reneged on a promise to provide live music for the piece.

PNB founding director Kent Stowell later asked him to create work for the company, but Morris turned him down. He's been publicly frank on the reasons why; he didn't like the "tone" of the company under Stowell's direction, and had no taste for Stowell's own work.

"It's not an accident I wasn't here for 30-something years," he says. "It was a decision."

Maybe Morris would have swallowed the tone of the company if he had respect for Stowell's choreography, if those were the only two issues, but I don't think he ever would have gotten over a broken agreement for live music, which is pretty much his baseline requirement; this wasn't mentioned at all in "The Stranger" interview. I've only held three long-term grudges in my life, but I think if I had been in his shoes, that would have made a fourth.

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I don't think Mark Morris has had to worry about being considered "world class" for decades.

Yes. That's why I found the the tone he took in the interview rather odd. We all know he left town and made good and that he works with first-rate people. Funny he should feel the need to remind everyone, even if he does have issues with the hometown and some of its residents.

I have mixed feelings about his work for ballet companies, at least as far as his pieces for SFB are concerned.

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