'For me, live music is not a radical, weird extravagance; it's absolute necessity, so that everyone in the theater - audience and performers - is alive," asserts choreographer Mark Morris. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Morris is one of the United States' most celebrated choreographers and a popular, familiar artist abroad. During the 1980s, he set two of his works on the Batsheva Dance Company and subsequently spent three years in residence at the ThÃ©Ã¢tre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels.
It was after this period that Morris, who is renowned for his finely tuned musicality and had always preferred live to recorded accompaniment, made "a solemn vow to only perform with live music, no matter what." Reflecting on this unwavering commitment, he explains, "of course it's less work and it's less money and it's less time consuming to use recorded music, but as far as I'm concerned, everybody has those records at home."
Back in the United States, Morris assembled a roster of top-notch musicians who, in varying combinations, perform alongside the Mark Morris Dance Group both at home and tour. When the MMDG visits the Tel Aviv Opera House later this month, the company's nineteen dancers will be joined by several members of the MMDG Music Ensemble for two diverse programs of Morris's captivating choreography.
As he divulges the list of works on the two bills, Morris notes, "I like to think of it as one program that takes two nights to watch." The MMDG last visited Israel in the mid-1990s, and Morris suggests that audiences take advantage of the company's rare appearance by attending both evenings. "It's really a very different experience," he promises. "They're both very complete programs with a big variety of approaches and music."
Listening to Morris talk about the repertory his group will perform in Israel, it's clear that his work holds a powerful attraction not only for modern dance enthusiasts but also for classical music buffs. Scanning over the list of works on Program A - All Fours, V, and Visitation - he muses, "Well, it's Bartok, Schumann, and Beethoven; that's pretty good already." Then he turns to Program B, noting with approval the two Mozart compositions for Eleven and Double as well as Lou Harrison's "Grand Duo," to which Morris created a dance of the same name.
While Morris always studies his selected music meticulously, he feels a sense of artistic freedom in the way he works with each score. "As a choreographer or as a listener, what you find in a piece of music is there," he claims. "There's no arguing it; it's not a word translation thing. It's the same with a dance: it doesn't have to go in any particular way with the music. It's different for every piece, I hope. I like a big variety of approaches, so that's why I choose such different pieces of music."
It's this voracious appetite for music and open-minded attitude that fosters such an extraordinary range in Morris's extensive repertory and indeed, even in a single program. Set to Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 11" (arranged for piano and strings) and his "Sonata in D Major" for two pianos, respectively, Eleven and Double share a refined movement quality which matches the tone of the music. Yet Grand Duo, which closes Program B, is what Morris calls a "perfect antidote to those [two works] . . . It's wild. It's quite extreme and it's quite gorgeous."
Asked if he has any words of wisdom for Tel Aviv audiences, Morris advises, "Come ready to listen and watch at the same time. That's already a lot to do," he says laughingly. "[It's] already a big responsibility to watch and listen at the same time. But," he adds wisely, "there are many rewards for that."
The Mark Morris Dance Group performs at the Tel Aviv Opera House from December 29 to January 3. Tickets (159-339 NIS) are available at (03) 692-7777.