Morris, Mark


Morris, Mark
born Aug. 29, 1956, Seattle, Wash., U.S.

U.S. dancer and choreographer.

He formed the Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980. It was the resident company at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels (1988–91), returned to the U.S. in 1991, and made its permanent home in Brooklyn in 2001. Known for his daring style, he has choreographed many works for his own company as well as for opera productions and television performances, including The Hard Nut (1991), his modernized version of The Nutcracker.

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▪ 2002

      American dancer-choreographer Mark Morris had special reason to celebrate the 20th anniversary season of his company, the Mark Morris Dance Group, in 2001—the opening of the troupe's first permanent American home, the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The $6 million building, conveniently across the street from the company's usual home performing venue, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), included such amenities as offices, kitchens, dressing rooms and showers, and rehearsal studios that could double as performance spaces for smaller, more experimental works. Having such a sumptuous home was a unique accomplishment in the world of American modern dance.

      Morris was born on Aug. 29, 1956, in Seattle, Wash., and at age eight, after attending a performance by the José Greco flamenco company, decided to become a Spanish dancer. He took classes, began performing professionally at age 11, joined the Koleda Folk Ensemble at 13, and began choreographing professionally at 14. He spent part of 1974 studying in Spain and in 1976 moved to New York City, where he danced in the companies of such choreographers as Eliot Feld, Lar Lubovitch, Laura Dean, and Hannah Kahn. In 1980 Morris launched his company when he and 10 fellow dancers presented a concert of five of his works, and its reputation was solidified at BAM's 1984 Next Wave Festival. Only two years later Morris won a Guggenheim fellowship, was choreographing for major ballet companies, began taking his company on tour, and was the subject of an hour-long public television special. In 1988 Morris accepted an invitation to become the resident choreographer of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, expanded the membership of the company, and renamed it the Monnaie Dance Group/Mark Morris. Even at home many considered him the “bad boy of modern dance” and especially did not appreciate or understand his outrageous humour or his more innovative works, and the Belgians, not accustomed to his style of dance, were even less receptive. Nonetheless, during his three years in Belgium, Morris choreographed some of his most acclaimed and enduring creations, including L'Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato (1988), his first full-evening work and the subject of a photo and essay book by that name in 2001; Dido and Aeneas (1989), a dance version of the opera, in which Morris danced the parts of both Dido and the Sorceress; and The Hard Nut (1991), his version of The Nutcracker. He was awarded a MacArthur fellowship in 1991. While Morris was out of the U.S., Mikhail Baryshnikov and the White Oak Dance Project kept Morris's works before the American public.

      Following the company's return to the U.S. in 1991, Morris created an average of five or six new works each year for his company—including Beautiful Day (1992), The Office (1994), Somebody's Coming to See Me Tonight (1995), and Four Saints in Three Acts (2000), his version of the Gertrude Stein–Virgil Thomson opera—and by 2001 had choreographed more than 100 numbers. Noted for his musicality, he also created classical ballets for numerous companies, including the American Ballet Theatre, the San Francisco Ballet, and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. The onetime enfant terrible of modern dance had become a setter of standards and a solid member of the dance establishment.

(Barbara Whitney)

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▪ American dancer and choreographer
born August 29, 1956, Seattle, Washington, U.S.

      American dancer and choreographer who formed his own modern dance company, the Mark Morris Dance Group. He was noted for his innovative and, at times, controversial works.

      At age eight, after attending a performance by the José Greco flamenco company, Morris decided to become a Spanish dancer. He took classes and at age 11 began performing professionally. Two years later he joined the Koleda Folk Ensemble and at age 14 began choreographing professionally. Morris spent part of 1974 studying in Spain and in 1976 moved to New York City, where he danced in the companies of such choreographers as Eliot Feld, Lar Lubovitch, Laura Dean, and Hannah Kahn. In 1980 he launched his company when he and 10 fellow dancers presented a concert of his works, and its reputation was solidified at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's 1984 Next Wave Festival. Two years later Morris won a Guggenheim fellowship, was choreographing for major ballet companies, and began taking his company on tour. Many, however, did not understand his outrageous humour or his more creative works, and he soon earned a reputation as “the bad boy of modern dance.”

      In 1988 Morris became the resident choreographer of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, and he expanded the membership of his company and renamed it the Monnaie Dance Group/Mark Morris. During his three years in Belgium, Morris choreographed some of his most acclaimed and enduring creations, including L'Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato (1988), his first full-evening work and the subject of a photo and essay book (2001); Dido and Aeneas (1989), a dance version of the opera, in which Morris danced the parts of both Dido and the Sorceress; and The Hard Nut (1991), his version of The Nutcracker. While Morris was out of the United States, Mikhail Baryshnikov (Baryshnikov, Mikhail) and the White Oak Dance Project kept Morris's works before the American public.

      Following the company's return to the United States in 1991, Morris created an average of five or six new works each year for his company—including Beautiful Day (1992), The Office (1994), Somebody's Coming to See Me Tonight (1995), and Four Saints in Three Acts (2000), his version of the Gertrude Stein–Virgil Thomson opera—and by 2001 had choreographed more than 100 numbers. Noted for his musicality, he also created classical ballets for numerous companies, including the American Ballet Theatre, the San Francisco Ballet, and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. By the turn of the 21st century, the onetime enfant terrible of modern dance had become a setter of standards and a solid member of the dance establishment. In 2001 the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, New York, opened as the troupe's first permanent home in the United States.

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Universalium. 2010.

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