Albany

Mark Morris explores music and movement; dance group at The Egg Friday

The Mark Morris Dance Group performs "Jenn and Spencer." (Christopher Duggan)
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The Mark Morris Dance Group performs "Jenn and Spencer." (Christopher Duggan)

Celebrated choreographer Mark Morris is thrilled to bring his company, Mark Morris Dance Group, to The Egg on Friday.

“We have a long history at The Egg and it’s so great to be back,” he said. “It’s such a relief. It’s been a ghastly and horrific last two years. I’ve had to keep my dances at more a chamber size in case of sickness, which is also why the dancers know all the parts so anyone can step in.”

Morris will be bringing three of his dances: the duet “Jenn and Spencer” (2013); “Words” (2014) for 16 dancers; and “Gloria” (1981) for 10 dancers.

The reasons he chose these dances are the size of the venue and because they were part of a small spring tour that included performances in Virginia and Florida. This concert is its final stop.

An even more basic reason why these dances were chosen is, “We’ve got them,” Morris said with a laugh.

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His dances are known for their whimsical wit, layered and humanistic vibe and musical expressiveness. But for people unfamiliar with Morris’ work they should know: that he founded his now international company in 1980 and currently employs 20 dancers; has created more than 150 dances for the company along with more than 20 commissioned works for other ballet companies as well as work for opera companies including the Metropolitan Opera.

Also, he predominantly uses live music and since 1996 has employed his own music ensemble of up to 70 musicians; has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates as well as awards including being inducted into the Whitney Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Dance; and since 2001 has his own Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, which serves up to 1,500 people in the community offering dance classes for students of all ages and levels of experience.

It’s no wonder why in this last year, when he needed to fill some slots in his company, up to 400 dancers came to audition and he “hired a few and some joined right away,” he said, adding that he has little turnover.

But what Morris is most known for — he also conducts and sings — is his connection to the music he dances to and how it inspires and integrates those dances.

“I listen to music all the time,” he said. “It’s what I like. Every dance starts with live music.”

He’d been listening to a violin sonata by Henry Cowell when he conceived “Jenn and Spencer.”

“I love Cowell’s music and put the dance together for a specific two dancers and everything came together quickly,” Morris said.

Pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough and violinist Georgy Valtchev will perform.

“Words” is also for violin and piano but these are from some of the 18 “Songs Without Words” that Felix Mendelssohn wrote.

“This was created for any number of dancers for a Southeast Asia tour, plus we weren’t sure of the theaters and the situations we’d be dancing in, whether it was a non-theatrical floor or even a lawn,” Morris said.

“It was also for any number of the songs and musicians — to be excerpted as needed. We could even whistle it if needed. It’s fully adaptable.”

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“Gloria” uses Vivaldi’s “Gloria in D” but because it requires voices and an orchestra, it will be danced to a recording. It also was conceived more than 40 years ago for a pick-up company and Morris said he couldn’t remember much more about its genesis.

Morris is now 65 and he regards his work as choreographer as a full time job.

“I’m always working on a new dance and the dancers, too, are always rehearsing, going to class, or maintaining repertory,” he said.

In fact, he’s currently working on a new dance that he expects should be ready by October. It will be to Burt Bacharach’s music. That he’ll be working on it for months is typical.

“Developing a new dance in a few months is quick,” he said.

Being able to work live with the dancers so that he can show them movements or explain what he wants is a marvelous change.

“It was profoundly devastating the last two years. We had to do an enormous amount of video and Zoom. It was incredibly difficult. We were masking and doing what we could safely. It was all hands on deck,” Morris said.

He maintains that cautious approach for every stop on a tour; “we don’t just show up,” he said. Someone visits the theaters beforehand to check on the floors, the pit, the lighting — all of which determine the repertory.

“An enormous amount of detail is done,” he said. “Conditions have to be right to do the work.”

And for all tours Morris will be there — except for the Albany show, because other commitments will keep him in New York City.

Mark Morris Dance Group

WHEN: Friday, March 11, 8 p.m.
WHERE: The Egg
HOW MUCH: $36
MORE INFO: www.theegg.org; 518 473-1845

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Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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