Friday, August 21, 2009

An old Mark Morris interview, for Mare Earley

Mark Morris Speaks
By Fred Dodsworth, special to the Berkeley Daily Planet
Sept 28, 2003

Mark Morris and his eponymously named Dance Group regularly perform for Cal Performances at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall — so much so that some claim the globally renown dancer/choreographer as an honorary citizen of the People's Republic of Berkeley. Certainly Morris is a member in good standing in the 'cultural revolution,' as his footprints are stomped all over what is modern in today's dance world. In addition to founding the Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980, Morris was one of the founders of the White Oaks Dance Project with Mikhail Baryshnikov.

The Mark Morris Dance Group opened the Cal Performances season with L'Allegro il Penseroso ed il Moderato on September 4th and returns to Zellerbach Hall September 12 through the 14th with a 'Repertory Program' of dance featuring the music of the late West Coast composer Lou Harrison, a world premiere of dance to the music of Béla Bartók, and a nine-song dance-cycle to the recorded music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.
As we spoke Morris, dressed in shorts and a plain tee-shirt, laughed easily. Unexpectedly pudgy for a dancer, and with longish, straggling gray hair, the 40-something Morris had just spent the afternoon wandering unnoticed around Berkeley.

Fred Dodsworth: Your music is rhythmically challenging. How do you teach dancers to work with complex rhythms?
Mark Morris: How do I teach rhythm? I'm good at it and smart and my dancers are brilliant and we practice. You have to have something to start with though. If you're interested in something you work on it. If need it for what you do, if you have an interest in it then it can come true. If you don't need it and you're not interested, you'll never learn it. (laughs)

Dodsworth: You're in your 40s, as we age our bodies change, how does that effect you, as a dancer?
Morris: Well, I don’t know. I'm going to dance a little bit longer, not a whole lot longer. I'll keep performing some but not forever. Because it's less… it's more… it's more trouble than it's worth at a certain point — to warm up for two hours to dance for five minutes when it used to be the other way. It takes longer to recover from injuries. Of course I'm way smarter about certain things, I'd be much better at some things, if I could [just] do those things but that's always how it works. That's normal.
You know I'm a lovely dancer and I continue to be and when I don't want to I won't. But I'm a very good teacher and I can still choreograph and I'd rather watch other people than watch me. (laughs)

Dodsworth:Can you envision doing dance for older bodies?
Morris: I already do. The youngest man in my company is 28, which doesn't seem like much but in dance or in other things that require that sort of work, you know, like athletics or something, that's very late in your career. So it's different if you're an instrumentalist or a writer or a painter or a choreographer, of course that's different. But I work with… they are already older dancers, they're in their 40s and that's old for dancers and that's great but you have to have been a good dancer and then stay a good dancer. You know just cause you've made it, you're old and you're still dancing doesn't mean you're good. It just means you're old. It doesn't mean you're wise. It means you're old.
I was co-founder of the White Oaks Dance Project, which was originally 'older' people, but it changed as it went along so that just Misha was an old 'thang'. It's fine. It's a possibility. I don't think it's the future of dancing, is everybody getting old. If you can still dance when you're old and you make stuff up and there's still good work to do than it's great but it's not like a mission. (laughs)
I don't work with little teenagers, I mean they're great and they're fun sometimes. At the San Francisco Ballet I'm working with much younger people and that's fine but to tour and work and live with these people… I don't want them to be 17? There aren't very many good dancers anyway, old or young. But also that's… if you're 20… I mean, come on, who wants to see a naked old person? And that's the market.

Dodsworth:Is that you're market, kids in their 20s?
Morris: They're all over the place. It's mixed but there's a certain demographic that spends the most money on certain things. It's not necessarily what I want to watch. I don't like contemporary, popular music very much but I never have. It's not like I’m now old and there's nothing like the Beatles were. I never really liked the Beatles that much. I mean for a minute I did, but it's never been a big interest of mine. It's not like I'm an old curmudgeon, it's just like I don't really spend the time doing things that I don't like to do very much.

Dodsworth:Bob Wills was once popular music.
Morris: Yeah, in the ’30s and ’40s. Absolutely. I like lots of popular music. I just don't like contemporary popular music. I like music from the ’20s. It's not a rule, it's just a preference. It's not like, 'oh, this is from the’50s therefore I don't like that.' I don't think that way at all. It's, 'oh. I like that song, what's that?' There are exceptions. But I don't buy that music. It's not interesting to me.

Dodsworth:What is the story behind your Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys dances?
Morris: I work with live music but this particular piece is one that's not. It's to recorded music because it's a particular recording session that I like. I could hire a cover band but this is them [Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys] very, very old. He died sort of the next day. This is from the early-middle ’70s, they'd been a band for 40 years. It's them… they're all very old on this recording. That's what I like. It's not a period recording from the ’30s. It's fantastic. If you listen to their music from the ’30s and the ’40s and then from the ’70s, they're relaxed and they don't have to pay any attention to each other and they know each other and they read each other's minds and they play fabulously and their rhythm is perfect and it's great. It's wonderful.

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