Skip to main content

Dancer/Choreographer Mark Morris

Dancer/Choreographer Mark Morris. Early in his career, Morris performed with a variety of companies. In 1980, he founded the Mark Morris Dance Group creating over 90 works for the troupe. He has also staged over a dozen commissions for other ballet companies, including the San Francisco Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, and the American Ballet Theatre. From 1988-1991, Morris was Director of Dance for the national opera house of Belgium in Brussels. Morris was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1991, and he is the subject of a biography by Joan Acocella (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). This spring, the Mark Morris Dance Group is opening the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, New York.

41:01

Other segments from the episode on May 21, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 21, 2001: Interview with Mark Morris; Review of the season finale of Sopranos.

Transcript

DATE May 21, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Mark Morris talks about his career and childhood
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Mark Morris was recently described in Time magazine as the most
prodigiously gifted choreographer of the post-Balanchine era. New Yorker
dance critic Joan Acocella recently wrote, quote, "Mark Morris was the most
controversial choreographer of the 1980s. Many people loved him immediately
and many loathed him, partly because he was a young smart aleck, but largely,
I think, because his work was such a mixed business. On the one hand he was
ironic, outrageous. On the other hand he was earnest, humanistic and a child
of the great tradition. Having seen the latter kind of work, people didn't
understand how he could also do the former kind: perform in his underpants
with a paper bag over his head to parlor songs. They thought he was pulling
their leg. In 1991, he was no longer seen as the bad boy of modern dance, he
was a master," unquote.

The Mark Morris Dance Company is celebrating its 20th anniversary and the
company has started moving into its own building in Brooklyn. I asked Morris
why it's so important for the company to have its own building.

Mr. MARK MORRIS (Dancer): Well, here's the thing, you know, I've had a
company for 20 years now and we've been rehearsing in whatever space is
available and it's very difficult to choreograph and to rehearse in a space
that keeps changing, the temperature, the floor surface. You know, is there a
shower? Where is it? What are the hours? You know, really most people who
have jobs go some place to do those jobs. And for some reason, with modern
dance companies, it's perceived as an enormous luxury, when, in fact, it's
pretty much a necessity. The fact that very few people have a studio is too
bad. And I'm thrilled and pleased that we have one. But as far as I'm
concerned it shouldn't be freakish. It should be regular.

GROSS: Are there things that you want designed into this that you've always
wished you had in the spaces that you rented?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, yes, absolutely. One thing is every window in the
building opens to admit air.

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

Mr. MORRIS: Which is great. And unusual.

GROSS: That's unusual. Yeah.

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah. And there's enough showers. You know, just sort of the
mundane things. We have wonderful dressing rooms that are sort of modeled on
baseball team dressing rooms for the dancers that are sort of corrals,
individual, sort of, almost rooms. And my office is on the floor with all of
the other offices and it's designed so that the dancers arriving for work walk
through a common space so everybody sees each other all the time. You know,
we've always had offices somewhere in New York and then studios wherever we
could find them. And we would go for weeks without the staff and the dancers
seeing each other. So we've remedied that.

GROSS: Now I know you're reluctant to have people other than your own dancers
perform your work. How do you choose the dancers in your company? What are
some of the things you're looking for that you need for your work?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, I need smart. I need smart people which is--you know,
it's a pleasure to work with smart people, even though, you know, they have
too many answers. I need people who can do my work in a way that makes sense
and people who can hear music in a way that's compatible with the way I
choreograph to music. And, foremost, we have to all get along because we
spend so much time in airports and hotels and theaters and, you know, we
really have to be able to get along well, dance together, be able to face each
other every day and, you know, not just imitate ourselves. You know, you want
something new happening when you're working on new work.

GROSS: Are there certain, like, body demands or physical demands that your
choreography asks of dancers that maybe other choreographers don't?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, a lot of my work, I would say because of the way I work
with music, it's rhythmically very, very specific and meticulous and tricky.
The virtuosity of my dancers isn't in the giant leaps and the, you know,
million turns and the fireworks, basically. The virtuosity is in the subtlety
and nuance and a very specific approach to rhythm and musicality. And not
everybody can do that. I've auditioned many, many dancers who were wonderful,
talented specimens of dancers who just couldn't get the coordination and the
rhythmicity and the specific action that I need.

GROSS: When you're choreographing something for the dancers in your company,
do you consider it collaborative at all? Do you change things as you see
their bodies move? Do they make suggestions to you or ever ask to make
changes?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, there's very little improvisation involved in my work.
People often think that to really feel free--like dancing is free or
something. You know, it's like, well, it's not. You're not just making
something up on the spot. I make up things from my study of the score and
from just thinking. And I show things in the studio, dancers do it, they read
it back to me. And I change it or make variations on it or, occasionally if
it's in a tight spot, I ask how they can get out of it most gracefully or
least-gracefully. If I want a particular kind of a lift or some kind of
special-effect-looking thing, I'll ask the dancers to come up with that. But,
otherwise, the collaboration comes from them dancing what I've choreographed,
you know, which isn't just a vain command, it's also reasoning, and logic and
problem-solving and artistry.

GROSS: As you get older, the age gap between you and your dancers widens.
How is that effecting your relationship with them?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, it's very interesting because, well, I adore them and we
get along really well. I can't assume certain things that I know from, sort
of, my cultural history. I can't assume that they know those things. You
know, like can you name The Beatles? You know, what I'm saying? The newest
people in my company communicate in a way that I don't entirely understand
because they grew up in a completely different situation. So, you know, I'm
kind of--you know, they studied my work in dance history at college, you know.
And that's kind of great. And a fabulous funny thing is that a couple of
people in my company now had first seen my work on television, like on PBS,
you know, on a "Great Performances" show as like a 10-, 11-year-old kid. It's
like, `I want to do that when I grow up.' And voila, as they grew up and this
is what they're doing. So to me, that's kind of delightful and a little
ironic.

GROSS: As a choreographer, do you create moves for your dancers that you
couldn't quite execute yourself?

Mr. MORRIS: Oooh, that's a good question. I don't know. I probably do
sometimes. You know, if I see something like, `Oh, you can do that? That's
great. Do it.' You know, and I don't necessarily have--you know, I haven't
tried the back walkover necessarily that I want to put in a piece. But, you
know, also I work with ballet companies. I do commissions for ballet
companies occasionally. I just did a new piece for American Ballet Theater.
And, you know, I know all of that. I work in the language of ballet when I
work with them, but it's not something that I do or really ever did much. I
never danced as a classical ballet dancer performing. And, you know, I love
the mystery and, sort of, the glamour of the way ballet technique has evolved.
And so I--you know, I use that because I love that they can do it. I can't
and I sort of don't even want to.

GROSS: I'm wondering if you think that your strengths and limitations as a
dancer have effected your style as a choreographer?

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, I'm sure, of course, in some way. I mean, I have certain
preferences of how to approach movement. And I've never really, for quite a
long time, choreographed things specifically on me that I just make other
people learn. You know, even when I'm choreographing a solo for myself, I
work with another dancer or two so that I'm making up something that is
logical as a composition and makes sense to look at instead of just to do what
it feels like, isn't necessarily the same as what it looks like.

GROSS: What are some of your preferences as a dancer? What feels best and
feels most natural to you and what feels really out of reach to you?

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, let's see. I mean, I like rhythmic trickiness and density
and surprise. I like to see dancers dancing with one another instead of at
one another. You know, I don't really--I'm not really drawn to dance
spectacle which says, you know, I can do this and you can't. I'm more
interested in, sort of, not gentler but certainly less, I don't know,
exaggerated kind of performance activity. So a lot of it is my musical point
of view decides what kind of dancing I want to see.

GROSS: I think that earlier in your career, you became well known for doing
things that were considered unusual for the time, like swapping gender roles
in dance. You know, having a woman lift a man, for instance. And for doing
things that were seen as--is--almost odioustic too strong? Too strong a term?

Mr. MORRIS: No, that's OK.

GROSS: Yeah. Give me an example of what you think of as having kind of
really surprised people.

Mr. MORRIS: Well, I think what surprised people originally and why I, early
on, had some sort of a reputation of being difficult or outrageous or blah,
blah, blah, I think really it's because I was trying to be frank and direct
and honest. And, you know, I'm sort of an aggressive personality and, you
know, I can be kind of funny and kind of mean. And so if you answer questions
in interviews honestly, sometimes you say things that people don't want to
hear. You know, I came out as a queer at a time, you know, 20 years ago when
it was maybe less comfortable for people to imagine that some dancers actually
were homosexual. It was always rumored. But when you actually said you were
in the newspaper, that was a little bit surprising to some. And that's since,
you know, lost its power because it's not such a big deal anymore. So, you
know, I continue to try to tell the truth, and I don't think I really made any
horrible affronts, you know. And if I did I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to
hurt anybody's feelings.

GROSS: So when you did come out, how was that expressed in your dancing or
choreography?

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, it wasn't. It was just, you know, sort of an announcement I
guess. It wasn't even an announcement. I was gay and, you know...

GROSS: `Ladies and gentlemen...'

Mr. MORRIS: ...big deal.

GROSS: `Attention, ladies and gentlemen...'

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah, it was like. Yeah. Right. `Fasten your seat belts,
you're all going to be so shocked at this.' Right. Well, you know, part of
it, again, like you were talking about, women and men, whatever that is,
you know, their perceived historical roles in dancing. You know, part of that
in the earliest days of my work was politically on purpose. You know, that I
wanted everybody in the company, male or female, to be able to do the exact
same tasks. You know, so that it wasn't skewed toward male or female physical
capacity. Also because I don't have that many people in my company so I
wanted everybody to be able to do everything. And since having a company for
all of these years, I've--you know, my politics are not shocking at all
anymore. And I still feel that people should be able to do everything but now
I don't care as much and I also really value more the way men and women differ
from one another. You know, the similarities I've explored and, you know, the
differences are interesting again.

GROSS: Have any of your dancers ever challenged you about your assumptions
about their bodies or gender or anything like that?

Mr. MORRIS: No. If anything, I do. You know, if someone's really good at
dancing slow and soft, I encourage him or her to dance fast and hard. You
know, I like people to have a big pallet of approaches so that a great deal of
variety can be accomplished by everybody.

GROSS: My guest is Mark Morris. His dance company is celebrating its 20th
anniversary. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Dancer and choreographer Mark Morris is my guest and his company the
Mark Morris Dance Group is celebrating their 20th anniversary year and they're
moving to a new space, their first real home in Brooklyn, New York. And
there's a new book about his work called Mark Morris' "L'Allegro, il Penseroso
ed il Moderato."

You studied ballet when you were a boy. How old were you when you started?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, I started studying--let's see. I started dancing lessons
when I was about nine years old. And I started with Spanish dance. And I
started studying ballet at, I think, I was about 11.

GROSS: Was Spanish dancing like flamenco dancing?

Mr. MORRIS: Yes, exactly.

GROSS: Flamenco dancing always has this kind of like really sexual, almost
S&M kind of edge to it. What do you do when you're nine?

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, imagine how fabulous it is when you're nine. You know,
there were always wonderful kids who were flamenco dancers. You know, you've
seen them, haven't you? I would hope so. Anyway, it's what I wanted to do
and so I asked my mother for dancing lessons and found a wonderful teacher,
Verla Flowers, in Seattle, who taught me Spanish dance, flamenco and Juta(ph)
and Esquilibeleto(ph). And then I started learning other kinds of dance, and,
specifically, ballet. And I started doing a lot of folk dancing around the
age of 11, 12, 13.

GROSS: What kind of folk dancing?

Mr. MORRIS: Balkan, most generally. You know, what was Yugoslav--you know,
Serbian, and Croatian, and Macedonian and some Bulgarian dancing, Romanian,
Greek--lots of stuff.

GROSS: And what did you like about that?

Mr. MORRIS: It's--well, you're dancing with people, holding hands or belts
or whatever and singing, often at the same time. And there's a real sort of
mastery that you have to get of these particular moves, which are often very
tricky, depending on, you know, the region and the time period. And then you
have to learn it well enough to fill into a line without, you know, destroying
the flow of the dancing that everybody's doing. You know, if you really--if
you haven't got it, you can't break into the line and to do it with everyone.
So there's a great sort of community rhythm going on and the dances aren't
necessarily made for watching. They're made for dancing, for participating.
And that sort of notion has fed my work since then. And I still like that. I
still use a lot of circles and lines and odd rhythms and sort of a community
kind of dancing.

GROSS: What about holding hands?

Mr. MORRIS: Love it.

GROSS: And what about ballet. How'd you like it as a boy?

Mr. MORRIS: I loved it, and I still do more and more. You know, I started
when I was 11, had a lot of different teachers and then I worked for a long
time with Perry Brunson--the late Perry Brunson, who was a wonderful,
tyrannical, madman ballet teacher who taught me a great deal, especially about
dancing with music. And I teach ballet class to my company, basically. You
know, it's a little bit modified. We do more work with our legs parallel
instead of always turned out. But I teach a ballet class for my company and
most of it is take a ballet class in some form, although you don't have to to
do my work. We use it as sort of Latin and it's really good for symmetry and
strength and, you know, practicing things.

GROSS: What was it about your teacher that qualified him as a madman?

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, dear. Well, one thing is that he vowed to die before he was
50, so he did when he was 49. He just did. He just died, that's all. He was
very, very ruthless. And, you know, you would have to memorize a sequence, a,
you know, 32-measure combination of steps without ever marking it, without
ever trying it out or doing it with your hands or anything. He would just say
what it was and then there would be a four-measure introduction and then you
would have to do it. And if you erred in any way, you were thrown out. You
know, it was like that. He was crazy.

GROSS: Thrown out for the day or thrown out forever?

Mr. MORRIS: Thrown out for the class. You know, just for that class. And I
guess it was supposed to be humiliating but, in fact, you were kind of happy
when you got kicked out.

GROSS: Was this an effective way to teach?

Mr. MORRIS: No. But the thing was he was intuitively brilliantly musical
and could conjure in the minds of teen-agers, you know, of--you could come up
with a beautiful story that would motivate your dancing. It was partly how to
remember things. You know, you would pretend and relate these things to music
and he was very, very gifted that way. And, you know, his anatomical point of
view, of what muscles move what limbs was very skewed, and so, you know, it
wasn't great training physically, but it was great training artistically.

GROSS: Can you pass on something wonderful that he told you about music and
its connection to dance or how to think about rhythm while you're dancing?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, they weren't bullmo(ph) like that. It was more like, you
know, you did everything like it was your last day on Earth. You know, it was
like everything was sort of achingly, longingly desperate, which is very easy
to get from a bunch of teen-age kids. You know, it's like, `Now reach, reach,
your lover is over there,' right? It was like, `Oh, my God.' And it works.
You bring yourself to tears, you know, and then you learn that maybe it's not
just bringing yourself to tears, but maybe you should bring other people to
tears or to laughter through your work instead of just making yourself feel a
certain way.

GROSS: Do you have any family background in music or dance?

Mr. MORRIS: My grandfather danced around, was sort of a tap dancer,
Vaudevillean amateur. My father played the piano and the organ and sang very
off key but very enthusiastically. And my mother loved, specifically, Spanish
music but all sorts of music. We listened to music all the time. My sister
sang at one--you know, sort of how I did, in choruses. And we had friends who
were musicians and we just kind of went to things and, you know, it was a very
interesting, not extravagant, but very sort of varied cultural life that we
had at my house.

GROSS: We talked a little bit about when you were young, studying ballet,
Balkan folk dancing, Spanish dance. How did you gravitate to modern dance?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, first of all, I started making up dances because I wanted
to and my wonderful teacher Berla Flowers would leave a time slot in her
annual recital that was dedicated to my work, whatever I wanted to do. She
would let me make up a dance to put on this program that included like the
four-year-olds doing, you know, the Marigold Dance and the grown up girls
doing Sleigh Ride. And, you know, it was a big sort of variety show. But she
would let me make up a dance and she didn't even ask about it. I would get
studio time and ask dancers some to work with me and I would make up dances
and perform them.

I didn't--I barely even knew what modern dance was. I still actually can't
tell you what it is, except it's not necessarily ballet, but it can be. And
so I started making up--the first good dance I made up, as I look back, is
when I was about 15. And I really hadn't studied that much. I'd had a
smattering of classes in grand technique and in Limon technique and, you know,
sort of general modern dance training, but it wasn't really my mission to join
a modern dance company, certainly not to form one. So I started
choreographing before I actually even knew that that was what the job was
called.

GROSS: Mark Morris will be back in the second half of the show. His company
is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and a new book celebrates his work. I'm
Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, what to avoid when starting your own dance group. We
continue our conversation with choreographer Mark Morris. And TV critic David
Bianculli reviews last night's season finale of "The Sopranos."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with dancer and
choreographer Mark Morris.

New Yorker dance critic Joan Acocella wrote about him: "His work is not about
some small, recently discovered post-modern department of our sensibilities.
It's about human experience," unquote.

The Mark Morris Dance Group has started moving into its own building, its
first permanent home, in Brooklyn. The company is also celebrating its 20th
anniversary. Before forming the company, Mark Morris danced with Eliot Feld,
Laura Lubavitch and Laura Dean.

When you started your own company, were there things you wanted to borrow
from other companies you danced in, or wanted to avoid, that you didn't like
about those companies?

Mr. MORRIS: Well it was mostly `avoid,' you know, and certain things--I'm
trying to think of certain things that I vowed I would never do with my own
company, that of course you end up having to do because you have a company.
You know, it's like, `We won't do matinees and evenings on the same day.' It's
like, `Well, gee, that's when everybody wants to see the show,' you know.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. MORRIS: And you know, some of it is just pragmatic. You know, some
stuff like we tour--we all have single rooms when we go on tour, which seems
regular, but most dance companies to this day have people in double and
occasionally triple rooms when they go on the road, which you would never do
as a business traveler, but, you know, that's something that is a little bit
more humane that I've been able to implement.

Another thing is, we work only and exclusively with live music, and that makes
a huge difference in the quality of the work and the sort of spontaneity and
aliveness of our concerts.

GROSS: I think that's great, but let me ask you, what's wrong with tape?

Mr. MORRIS: Tape--um, let's see. Tape--well, it's called a recording,
right? It's called a record...

GROSS: Right. Yeah. Right.

Mr. MORRIS: ...on purpose, because it's a record of a performance, and I
really think--you know, unless a piece is specifically composed for tape, or
for, you know, whatever it is, disc now or whatever those things are called,
then I think that the real reading of the piece of music involves being in the
same room with the musicians, you know. A vibrating--the vibrations from a
string quartet in person are not the exact same as they are coming out of a
speaker. And also, everybody knows the feeling of singing along with your
favorite record--you know, you can call a CD a record--and you know how long
the pause is and what key the next thing is, and, you know, it's all
automatic, and you're memorizing and committing yourself to one possible
rendition of a particular piece of music, and I think music is a lot bigger
than that.

GROSS: What do you do for rehearsals? Do you have a rehearsal pianist, or do
you have the group performing there?

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah, I bring in the Mark Morris Philharmonic for rehearsals. I
work--I occasionally play recordings in order for the dancers to hear, you
know, voicings or if there's a choral part, or it's like now, you know,
this--`You're doing this to the oboe,' or something. But I work with my music
director, Ethan Iverson, who's a fabulous jazz pianist as well as my full-time
music man, so I work with the score in my hand and with Ethan at the piano,
and I work that way, with the dancers learning the music as we go, and not
being particularly attached to any particular recording.

GROSS: So you like to work with live music, not with recorded music, but if
the tempo varies, even just a little bit, does it throw the dancers off,
particularly if they're, you know, dancing in a group, and they have to be
kind of synchronized in some way. You know, they have to all be working
together. Does anything ever go wrong if the tempo has changed just a bit?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, the tempo always changes just a little bit. That's what's
great. You know, we're always in contact with the musicians. We can see each
other, we're working together, and so everybody's kind of, you know, charged
up, on edge in a certain way so that we can all solve our problems at the same
time.

There's an old anecdote; it's been attributed to many different conductors,
which is, you know, asking the dancers before a show, like, `How would you
like the music tonight? Too fast or too slow?' And that is--I understand why
it's funny, but also that's the only thing that can really throw dancers off,
you know, if it's really sorely out of tune or somebody doesn't make an
entrance, the big trumpet solo doesn't happen, or--you know, if it's really
badly phrased that doesn't make a big difference to the dancers. They can
still pull of a good show. But if it's, like, horribly fast or slow, beyond
reason, then you can actually ruin the dance, and poor dancers don't have any
recourse. They can't get back at the musicians in any way. The musicians
win, unless they sound horrible.

So we're all doing it together, and we've rehearsed with live music, so it's
really--you know, it's like giving a recital. You know, you're really--it's
without a net, and that's what's very exciting about it.

GROSS: Have you have many live performances where the too fast or too slow
problem was real?

Mr. MORRIS: Sure. And then I kind of glower and maybe emphatically stamp my
foot to speed it up or slow it down. It doesn't happen very often.

GROSS: So where are you when you're doing that? You're not on stage.

Mr. MORRIS: I'm on stage, yeah.

GROSS: You're on stage.

Mr. MORRIS: No, I don't do anything. If I'm watching, I just have to suffer
through it. But you know, it's very rare. If I'm on stage, a couple of
well-placed glances in the direction of the music can make all the difference.

GROSS: My guest is dancer and choreographer Mark Morris. His company is
celebrating its 20th anniversary. We'll talk more after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is dancer and choreographer Mark Morris. His dance group is
celebrating its 20th anniversary.

I'm wondering if you think you had a piece you did when you were starting the
company, you know, early on in the company's history, that you really intended
to serve this function, to announce `I'm here. This is what I do. This is my
personality. This is my company, and we're here.'

Mr. MORRIS: Hmm. I wonder if I did. You know, I would say certainly the
piece that is difficult to pronounce--"L'Allegro Il Penseroso, Ed Il
Moderator," which was the first dance I did in Brussels, which was in 1988, I
guess, '89--oops, I should know. That was really `Here's what's happening,'
and I'd had a company already for a number of years, but this was really a new
situation. I had live music, a big budget, rehearsal studios. I was
foreign--I was a foreigner in Brussels. And I think that was probably the
piece that was most exclamatory, like `Here it is; this is what we're about.'

GROSS: Describe some of the exclamatory parts.

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, just that it's--you know, it's very--on the surface, it's
very plain, sort of pedestrian barefoot dancing, you know. It's--there are no
video monitors and no laser beams, and it's, you know, an old piece of music
by Handel, and it's a very big contemporary expression of these verses of
Milton's. So it's a big theater piece. And as an American, you know--I was
even more American when I was in Belgium, for some reason. I didn't think I
was, but it didn't make me a patriot, but it made me identify more as an
American than I had before. So it was really the style of dancing, the mode
of presentation, the seeming simplicity of the work, was adored and reviled.

GROSS: Yeah, well, you were the head of the Belgian Dance Company(ph) for
awhile.

Mr. MORRIS: Well, it was my company, in fact, transplanted, so it was called
the Monet Dance Group/Mark Morris(ph), because we were at the Theatre de la
Monet(ph) in Brussels. But it was me and my staff and my dancers brought from
the States, with a few dancers I'd hired for the move.

GROSS: And when you were reviled, what did they especially hate?

Mr. MORRIS: People didn't like that I wasn't Maurice Bejar(ph), and
actually, that's something I really like, that I'm not Maurice Bejar. It's
complicated. My work seemed too plain and too something--some people didn't
like that I was American, some people didn't like that I was queer, some
people didn't like that I wasn't something that I should have been, you know?
I don't know. It doesn't take much to be controversial in a very conservative
city, you know. So just my existence, and you know, I had long hair at the
time; I guess that was naughty or something. I don't know.

GROSS: Did it toughen you at all or were you just kind of blase about it?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, it hurt my feelings a little bit because we got a lot of
press. The night--you know, it wasn't all a nightmare, believe me. I made up
a lot of work that we still do and it was a very valuable three and half
years. But, you know, when it's not just like--I didn't--you know, a critic
saying, `I didn't like that piece and here's why,' it's like, you know, when
they're writing like, you know, `He's so stupid, he wouldn't know how to make
up a good dance no matter what.' You know, it's like, `Well, gee, you don't
have to say that,' because, you know, in fact, I worked very very hard on it
in my own simplistic way. You know, `I'm sorry I'm not as bright as you are
but, you know, you can at least watch the dance.'

GROSS: Why did you move your company to Brussels in the first place?

Mr. MORRIS: We moved to Brussels because we were offered an unbelievable
situation with, you know, again, live music always, a big European budget,
health insurance, studios, theaters, you know, basically being employed by the
government. And, you know, it was miraculous. And, you know, the arts are
treated, in Europe, in way that is not found in the United States. So, you
know, it was fabulous. Also I wasn't entirely autonomous and that's something
that I do have in the United States. So it was an offer that was too good to
refuse. Mr. Bejar's company had moved away suddenly and they needed, in the
contract of the theater, to have a dance company there. And so they hired us
intact.

GROSS: You know, earlier, we were talking about gender and dance and the
differences between male and female bodies. Have eating disorders been an
issue in your company?

Mr. MORRIS: In my company? No. The answer is no.

GROSS: And I'm sure you say that with pride.

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah.

GROSS: Do you feel like you set the tone for that?

Mr. MORRIS: Why, be--my corpulence?

GROSS: No, I mean, it's because you--no. No, because just in terms of what
you want and what you expect of the dancers and, you know, in terms of their
life and their art.

Mr. MORRIS: Well, part of it is, you know, there's--something happened since
Mr. Balanchine died. Everyone imagines that Balanchine wanted like the
skinniest, scariest women in the world. In fact, he didn't. At the time when
he was doing faster, bigger choreographies, women looked different in the
States than they do now. So it was comparatively leaner and comparatively
faster and comparatively stronger in the '40s and '50s.

And I think since his death, some people have just gone mad with this and
encouraging young women to really damage their careers and, in fact, their
lives by starving themselves, developing amenorrhea, bulimia, and really bad
self-image, bad complexion, stress fractures. It's really bad. It's a
feminist issue as well.

That's not what it's supposed to be. That's a big lie. Ladies who are
listening to that, believe me. And one thing that happens with my company
that still surprises me is we get reviews on tour that say my dance company
looks like a bunch of human beings. And it's like, wow, you know, what did
you expect? It's not a dog act, you know. Although, I love dogs. I'm not
downing dogs at all.

You know, they say that, you know, like, you know, some people are big and
some are little and some have big breasts or big asses and some don't and some
wear glasses and some are old and young. It's like, well, as far as I see it,
that seems to be what the world looks like instead of, you know, clones. I
understand...

GROSS: Yeah, but the dance companies don't always reflect the world. They
reflect all kinds of...

Mr. MORRIS: What?

GROSS: ...a perfected image of the human body.

Mr. MORRIS: Right. Well, that, to me, doesn't have too much to do with
dancing. I'm more interested in the dancing than in the container, you know.
My dancers are great. That's what they have in common. It may be--everybody
forgets about the beautiful perfect specimen dancers I have in my company and
they just talk about the freaks like me. And to me, that's so weird. You
know, it's like I use the analogy of when you go to a party, do you want
everybody there to look and act just like you? You know, you would certainly
not go home with a date, you would drive yourself crazy.

I understand in some forms of dance that it's important to have 32 people who
are almost the same height. Like The Rockettes, who are genius, and I love
them, or like the Corp de Ballet(ph) in Swan Lake, after Petipas or something.
And that really has to do with dancing alike and hearing music alike, not
necessarily exactly being the same height and weight and age. I think that's
not that interesting.

GROSS: When people find your body freakish, as you put it, what do you think
they're reacting to?

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, because I'm old and I have a big ass and big feet. And I'm
kind of clumsy and incredibly delicate and graceful and, you know--I don't
know. It's something else.

GROSS: Well, how do you use the fact that you have like large proportions and
that you think of yourself as both clumsy and graceful at the same time?

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah, what about it?

GROSS: How do you use that? How do you use that?

Mr. MORRIS: It makes my work richer. It means I have options that I
wouldn't have if I were any other way. You know, if I were 17 and hadn't a
thought in my head but could do, you know, one million pirouettes, I would
have a different kind of job than the job I have now.

GROSS: One more question for you. Do you find it easier now to be emotional
in your choreography and less kind of ironic?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, let's see. I suppose I used to be more reactionary, you
know. It was more--I was more sort of political, what I thought was being
feminist or something, you know. And so I was also very heart-on-sleeve. I
was very, very earnest. I still am. And I was ironic, I guess, because of
the time and because of my personality. And I don't think that my work has
gotten colder, but I think it's gotten simpler and clearer and, you know, most
artists I know intend for their work to be essentialized and not be
simplified, necessarily, but clarified so that it's just what's needed and
nothing really extraneous. So I think that I'm doing that. I enjoy doing
that and that's tricky because the next step is boredom.

GROSS: Well, what do you mean?

Mr. MORRIS: If it's so essential and so simple, pretty soon, nothing is
happening. You know, you might as well watch paint dry. So, you know, in
staying alive with music and with dancers, you know, and especially with
people who are younger coming in who've had a completely different experience
in their lives, it's really, you know, I'm sort of reborn all the time just by
my circumstances.

GROSS: Well, Mark Morris, thank you so much and congratulations on the 20th
year of your company. That's great.

Mr. MORRIS: Thank you.

GROSS: Mark Morris. The Mark Morris Dance Company is not only celebrating
its 20th anniversary, it's moving into its new home, a new building in
Brooklyn. And a new book celebrates Morris' work.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Finale of "The Sopranos"
TERRY GROSS, host:

The HBO series "The Sopranos" ended its third season last night with an
episode that dramatized one significant death, but left most story lines
unresolved. TV critic David Bianculli expects most fans to be disappointed
but he's not.

DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:

You'd think people who watch "The Sopranos" each week, who, in TV terms,
almost live for it, would know by now not to judge this series by the same
rules as most other shows. After all, this series serves up 13 episodes of
involved, intelligent, often-upsetting drama, then goes into hibernation for
almost a year. Fans and critics have nothing to do but watch reruns and
speculate about what will happen when the series eventually returns.
Meanwhile, the show's creator, David Chase, has all that time to plot and plan
and figure out exactly what he wants to do next.

If David Lynch and Mark Frost had been given that sort of time to make "Twin
Peaks," that series probably would have ended as brilliantly as it began. So
when David Chase gets to the end of a season, as he did last night, it doesn't
catch him by surprise. He doesn't just run out of gas or out of time. When
he presents a season finale episode that slowly advances the plot in several
different directions, it's because he has his eye on the bigger picture. He's
producing a novel for television and he allows things to happen when he feels
they should happen.

Perhaps many viewers were expecting a lot to happen last night because this
season already has presented episodes of escalating violence. Dr. Melfi, the
psychiatrist, was brutally raped. A dancer at the Bada Bing was killed by
loose-cannon mobster Ralph Cifaretto. Tony got involved with a sexy woman who
turned out to be an even looser cannon. During one intense fight, he almost
choked her to death. A Russian mobster was beaten, shot and left for dead by
Tony Soprano's right-hand-man Paulie Walnuts, but like Rasputin, that Russian
may have more lives left. And Jackie Jr., the son of Tony's former boss, shot
up a mob card game, killing one guy and shooting at two main men, including
Tony's nephew Christopher.

The fate of Jackie Jr. was resolved last night, but nothing else was. The
Russian didn't resurface. Tony didn't find out about Dr. Melfi's rape.
Gloria, Tony's wacko ex-mistress, didn't come hunting for him. No, what
happened was more subtle. It was a slow erosion of everything around Tony,
making him vulnerable from every direction. In his mob dealings, everyone but
Silvio now has a reason to betray him. And at home, Tony's daughter defied
him and his son got expelled, then on the eve of being shipped off to military
school, suffered a panic attack. It's the same disorder that Tony has, the
one that sent him to his psychiatrist in the first place.

Last night, his son's attack sent him back for another session. Here are
James Gandolfini and Lorraine Bracco as Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi.

(Soundbite of "The Sopranos")

Mr. JAMES GANDOLFINI (As Tony Soprano): My son has panic attacks. Now
obviously we can't send him to military school. Pediatrician said he's got
that putrid, rotten (censored) Soprano gene.

Ms. LORRAINE BRACCO (As Dr. Melfi): It's a slight tick in his fight-flight
response. It doesn't brand him as anything.

Mr. GANDOLFINI: You know, it comes down through the ages. See, I remember
hearing about my great-great-great-grandfather, he drove a mule cart over a
mountain road. He was transporting these valuable jugs of olive oil. Thought
it was a panic attack.

Ms. BRACCO: When you blame your genes you're really blaming yourself and
that's what we should be talking about.

BIANCULLI: If I had to guess, though, I'd have to say the most significant
part of last night's season finale was something that seemed just the
opposite. The Feds decided to target Adriana, Christopher's fiancee, and
dispatched a new field agent, played by Ferusa Bach(ph), to run into her at
the mall and befriend her. I'm betting next season that'll be the way the
federal task force finally gets the goods on Tony. I'm also betting we
haven't heard the last of the Russian, or the mistress or the rapist. And
that before "The Sopranos" is over, Tony will come to decide that protecting
his immediate family, his wife, son and daughter, is more important than
ruling over his mob family. If that's the case, I don't need a big bang up of
a season finale now, I can wait. And I'll have to. The next original episode
of "The Sopranos" is 11 months away and counting.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for The New York Daily News. This is
FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Analysis: Jazz singer Susannah McCorkle dies over weekend
TERRY GROSS, host:

We were stunned and deeply saddened by the news that jazz singer Susannah
McCorkle died over the weekend. She committed suicide. She had a special
place in the hearts of those of us who produce FRESH AIR. We were great fans
of hers, and presented her in concert several times. This Friday we'll pay
tribute to her and feature highlights of those performances. We'll close
today's program with a song from Susannah McCorkle's 1992 CD "I'll Take
Romance," featuring Howard Alden on guitar. This is "My Foolish Heart."

(Soundbite of "My Foolish Heart")

Ms. SUSANNAH McCORKLE (Singer): The scene is set for dreaming. Love's
knocking at my door. But, oh, my heart I'm reluctant to start for we've been
fooled before. The night is like a lovely tune. Beware my foolish heart.
How bright the ever-constant moon. Take care my foolish heart. There's a
line between love and fascination. It's hard to see on an evening such as
this. For they both bring the same sensation when you're lost in the magic of
a kiss.

His lips are much too close to mine. Be still my foolish heart. But should
our eager lips combine then let the fire start. For this time it isn't
fascination, or a dream that will fade and fall apart. It's love. This time
it's love, my foolish heart. It's love. This time it's love, my foolish
heart.

GROSS: Singer Susannah McCorkle. She died on Saturday. We'll pay tribute to
her this Friday on FRESH AIR.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

'Fresh Air' remembers Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (Part 3)

We conclude our tribute to Sondheim by listening to archival interviews with collaborators and performers, including Stephen Colbert, James Lapine, Paul Gemignani and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

52:30

'Fresh Air' remembers Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (Part 1)

Sondheim, who died Nov. 26, was the lyricist and composer who gave us Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and other shows. In 2010 he spoke about his writing process, from rhyming to finding the right note.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue