Mark Morris Dance Group
Facing the music
by Stephanie Rieke
For some time now, concert dance has been losing its footing with audiences. Back in the golden era of Balanchine and the Bolshoi, when Broadway and PBS productions enthusiastically embraced it, dance was a growth industry. Kids flocked to ballet classes, and adults snapped up tickets. Baryshnikov became a rakish movie star in The Turning Point. Dance was sexy. It still is, but fewer of us notice anymore. Never cheap, dance companies (dancers, sets, costumes, and occasionally live music) are increasingly expensive to tour and present, with government support thinning and dance audiences continuing to shrink. So I read with keen interest a story last month by Lewis Segal, distinguished dance critic of the Los Angeles Times, in which he predicted that this summer's television reality series hits Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance might regenerate mainstream popularity for concert dance.
For its part, the University Musical Society kicks off its lively new season with an extended dance focus on Friday and Saturday, September 16 and 17, including a public discussion of the issues facing dance today with a panel of experts drawn from the Michigan dance community and two performances at the Power Center by one of the premier companies of our time, the Mark Morris Dance Group.
Among the woefully underfunded, Mark Morris's company born in 1980 would seem to be one of the lucky ones. His group experienced three years of lavishly subsidized dance making at Belgium's royal opera house, during which time Morris created three of his most ambitious and acclaimed pieces; in 1990 Morris founded with Mikhail Baryshnikov the White Oak Dance Project, which played to packed theaters around the country; and just a year later he was awarded a lucrative MacArthur Fellowship. Yet it wasn't until 2001 that his company found a proper home a facility in Brooklyn with rehearsal studios, showers, offices, and a dance school. Now, as his esteemed
biographer (and New Yorker dance critic) Joan Acocella has written, MMDG is "an institution."
But that doesn't mean that Morris's development staff can take a vacation. He needs them more than ever to support his serious and exemplary commitment to live music in performance. Morris's choreography embodies an extraordinary creative drive developed from his diverse dance training Balkan, ballet, Spanish and perhaps an even greater reverence for music. Like his steps, his musical tastes are eclectic.
Here, the company presents two evenings of repertoire going back to 1983. The capstone of each program is V (2001), a work for fourteen dancers set to Schumann's Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano and Strings. Layered in repeating motifs, the dance's patterns and movements look avian. The cardinal centerpiece of V is the second movement, when the dancers take to the floor, crawling in rhythm to the rapturous score.
[Review published September 2005]