The Mozart of dance

After a 14-year absence, the Mark Morris Dance Group is back for six performances in Tel Aviv.

Mark Morris is not a dance critic. Nor does he claim to be an expert on the subject. In fact, he will be the first to tell you that he prefers not to attend dance performances too often. In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post he explained: "That's why I have a company, so that I can see the things I like."
After three decades making dance, Morris avoids the kind of authority many choreographers of his stature enjoy. As a celebrated leader in the American artistic community, Morris opts to focus his energy on his own work. And as they say, the proof is in the pudding. The Mark Morris Dance Group is one of the most sought-after troupes in the world.
Morris was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1956. His talents were first noticed as a dancer. As a young man, he performed with Lar Lubovich, Elliot Feld and others. It did not take long for Morris to recognize the need to choreograph in himself. In 1980 he founded the Mark Morris Dance Group in New York City. With the exception of a three-year stint in Europe, the company has remained in Brooklyn ever since.
From 1988 to 1991 Morris took over as artisticdirector of Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, the national opera house of Belgium. There he created three evening-length pieces: Dido and Aeneas, L'Allegro and The Hard Nut.
Over the past 30 years he has created more than 100 pieces for his ensemble. He has also been commissioned to choreograph works for ballet companies in America and Europe. He is a frequenter of the San Francisco Ballet, for which he has made 14 ballets to date. In addition, his pieces are in the repertory of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, New Zealand Ballet, English National and Royal Ballet.
Taking up choreographic reins did not prevent Morris from continuing to explore his own capabilities as a performer. Throughout the early years of the company and until recently, he was a regular in his own creations. On stage he is quirky, humorous and charismatic.
Morris has been lovingly named "The Mozart of Dance." Both as a dancer and as a dance-maker, he has a unique and unfaltering sense of timing and musicality. In addition, Morris has a fiery dedication to live music. In the first 15 years of its existence, MMDG went out of its way to bring musicians onto the stage. In 1996, the Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble was put together to ensure that there would always be live accompaniment for Morris's dances. Since then, the company has performed more than 1,000 times. The musicians travel with the company and will be performing alongside Morris's phenomenal cast this month at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.
IT HAS BEEN 14 years since the company last performed here. Its last visit was shortly after the opening of the new Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. "We love the theater," Morris said of TAPAC. "When we were there last, it was new. I guess it's more broken in now, but it was a really good place to perform."
For the return, Morris has put together two programs, which touch on highlights of the past two decades of his work. Six performances will be evenly split between the two programs.
Each program consists of three pieces. Program A includes Visitation, V and All Fours. Visitation is Morris's most recent creation. Developed in 2009, it is set to Beethoven's Cello Sonata No. 4 in C major. All Fours is set to Bartok's String Quartet No. 4 and premiered in 2003. V is Morris's most successful piece. It was originally created in 2001 to Robert Schumann's Quintet in E flat.  The New York Times named it as "one of the few great works modern dance has produced in a decade."
Program B includes Eleven, Double and Grand Duo. Eleven and Double were made in 2006 as part of Morris's Mozart Dances Series. Grand Duo is the oldest of Morris's pieces to be presented on this tour. It was created in 1993 and is set to Grand Duo for Violin by Lou Harrison.
Morris expressed an immense sense of satisfaction in our interview. Speaking from his office in MMDG's state-of-the-art facility in downtown Brooklyn, he spoke excitedly about his present doings and his aspirations for the future. "I like what we do so much," he said, "I'm always working on new stuff."
Beyond his work on stage, Morris is an influential community leader in his area. Before he opened the doors to his dance school, there were few places for children to study ballet and modern dance in Brooklyn. When MMDG extended its activities to include a youth program, the response was enthusiastic. "We have a great building with seven studios," Morris said. "I have 800 little kids who are studying in our school. I couldn't dream of anything better than that."
Despite a somewhat nonchalant tone in his voice, the effort necessary for MMDG to continue to blossom is clearly felt by Morris. "Keeping it all going is a lot of work. It takes a lot of energy to keep people going and to keep the quality high. I have to maintain a kind of dynamic energy that keeps people alert and engaged. And as you get older that gets harder," he explained.
Jet setting is an integral part of Morris's professional life. His travels take him around the globe yearly. "The best and worst things about the job are related. The best is being someplace else. But flying on airplanes is awful," he said. Eleven hours on a plane is a daunting prospect for Morris. However, he and his company are excited to return. "My dancers are thrilled to be going to Israel," he said. "It's an exotic trip for them. We travel a lot in the States and in Europe but never as far afield as Israel. I like going places, I just don't like what you have to do to get there."
However, Morris is showing no signs of fading. He continues to explorenew realms in his work. He sustains a level of excellence most dreamabout. And while many companies fight to retain their audiences,Morris's shows are consistently sold out.

The Mark Morris Dance Group will perform at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center December 29 through January 3. or (03) 692-7777.