KU Presents! Welcomes the Renowned Mark Morris Dance Group Oct. 11

Dance group on stage

By Susan L. Peña

KUTZTOWN, Pa. – Mark Morris, considered by many to be one of America’s most innovative and influential choreographers alive, will bring the Mark Morris Dance Group to Kutztown University’s Schaeffer Auditorium, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 11. As is always the case with this company, they will be accompanied by live musicians, a rarity during the past few decades, as most touring companies have switched to using recorded music.

The program will feature four works spanning much of Morris’s career, from 1980 to the present. One of them, “A minor Dance,” premiered at New York’s Joyce Theater in August.

Set to J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 3 in A minor for solo piano, which Morris calls “one of the very, very greatest of the Bach keyboard pieces,” the six-movement work is a response to the devastating effect the COVID lockdown had on dance companies in general and on Morris’s company in particular. It is both celebration and lament.

“We’re performing again, but many, many arts organizations are gone,” Morris said in an interview from his New York City apartment. “So many companies who made it through the pandemic don’t have enough money for people to come in and work. We’re back, but we have very little work and rehearsing for one show takes the same amount of time as rehearsing for a month of shows. We’re desperate to perform.

“So this isn’t ‘Hooray, we’re out,’ because we’re not out yet. This is the first thing I choreographed in the studio with all the dancers since before COVID. This is celebratory, but it’s not like being sprung from prison. We’re doing everything we can and next spring we have quite a bit of work. We’re grateful for the work we have, we’re dancing great and are back into the swing of performing together.”

Gia Kourlas, of the New York Times, wrote: “‘A minor Dance,’ gratifyingly, isn’t so minor. Six dancers, wearing separates by Elizabeth Kurtzman . . . imprint the stage with swooping curves as their bodies tilt and bend, reversing course from the weight of an outstretched leg.”

The group will also perform one of Morris’s earliest works, the 1980 “Castor and Pollux,” set to American composer Harry Partch’s avant garde chamber piece, “Castor and Pollux: A Dance for the Twin Rhythms of Gemini,” written in 1952. Because Partch was interested in using non-Western-style scales using microtones, he hand-built his own percussion and stringed instruments. These were visual works of art.

Morris said the music for this piece is pre-recorded because the six hand-built instruments are quite large. The piece is divided into two sections named for the identical fraternal twins of Greek mythology, “Castor” and “Pollux,” each containing the same number of beats. There are four parts in each section: “Insemination,” “Conception,” “Incubation” and “Chorus of Delivery.” Morris characterized the short work as “dense and active.” Kourlas called it “ferocious, raw yet precise and in possession of an unquenchable wildness.”

Also on the program will be “Grand Duo,” set to a piece by the late Lou Harrison for piano and violin. Choreographed in 1993 as a large ensemble piece for 14 dancers in four movements (“Prelude,” “Stampede,” “A Round” and “Polka”), the piece was called “savage and orderly, comic and bleak, poignant and exciting” by the New York Times when it was reviewed. Harrison’s music also incorporated non-Western music styles, especially Balinese and Javanese gamelan music.

The fourth piece will be Morris’s 2007 work set to Bach’s “Italian Concerto in F Major” for piano, featuring six dancers. “There’s never a reason not to go back to Bach, he commented.

Morris, born in 1956 in Seattle, Wash., studied dance with Verla Flowers and Perry Brunson. He performed with the companies of Lar Lubovitch, Hannah Kahn, Laura Dean, Eliot Feld and the Koleda Balkan Dance Ensemble before forming his own company in 1980, for which he has created more than 150 works.

In 1990, he founded the White Oak Dance Project with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Morris has created 22 works commissioned by ballet companies worldwide. He began conducting performances for MMDG in 2006, and has since conducted at Tanglewood Music Center, Lincoln Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Morris has also directed and choreographed operas for The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, the English National Opera, The Royal Opera at Covent Garden, and others.

Morris has inspired dance critic Joan Acocella to write his biography, “Mark Morris,” and Marlowe & Company has published a volume of photographs and critical essays entitled “Mark Morris’ L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato: A Celebration.” Morris’s own memoir, “Out Loud,” co-written with Wesley Stace, was published in October 2021.

Morris opened the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 2001 to provide a home for his company, subsidized rental space for local artists, community education programs for children and seniors, and a school offering dance classes to students of all ages and levels of experience, with and without disabilities. He is a Doris Duke Artist, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award for the Elevation of Music in Society, among numerous honors and awards.

Tickets for Mark Morris Dance Group are $36; $32 for students and seniors and can be purchased at www.KutztownPresents.org or by calling the KU Presents! Box Office 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, at 610-683-4092. Established to be the center of cultural life at Kutztown University, KU Presents! serves the campus and community by bringing world-class live arts that entertain, educate and enrich.