Choreographer Mark Morris has half an hour to talk with me before he takes a class in his brand new school. The building opened only last year but Morris founded his company in 1980, gradually consolidating a reputation for work that draws on a wild mix of international styles.
He also has a reputation for being a tricky though candid interview. (For example, on Riverdance: It would be easy to shoot them. You could just mow them down all in one line.) He has also accused journalists of being lazy and even offensive. I’m expecting Morris to be slightly aggressive and definitely verbose. He’s mostly the latter.
We start with V, the centrepiece of the company’s show for the Sydney Festival, a work dedicated to New York City.
I wanted to make up a big, beautiful, generous, sort of triumphant piece of dancing -¦ So I had just finished it, and in fact we were to have a big open house [of the new school] on the 11th of September, says Morris, who pauses. Which we cancelled -¦ And a lot of people cancelled their touring after that. We went ahead with everything.
A lot of people talked about how they felt that there was no relevance for their -˜artistic-whatever’ after that -“ and I think that’s disingenuous and I very much disagree with that idea. I think that’s exactly when art is most necessary -¦
V was described by The New York Times as being one of the few great works that modern dance has produced in a decade, but the context in which it premiered makes it unusually political for the company. Morris tells me that the more it [an artwork] works as politics, the less it works as art but I’m still curious about the suggestion by a number of critics that V stands for victory. Yes and no, is the answer.
V is also a five, a quintet, and it’s also a shape that the people dance in and it’s also what birds fly in. That’s why it’s called V -¦ everybody’s right, whatever you decide it is, Morris said.
Yes, but Morris has also asserted that he reads reviews so that he can respond oh, that’s interesting -“ and wrong. What’s been the greatest misinterpretation of his work?
I don’t know -˜misinterpretation’, because my job isn’t a word job, replies Morris. -¦ I did a solo called Peccadillos that I did in London -¦ and one critic said that I looked like a duchess fording a trout stream. I will never forget that -“ I think it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.
Years ago, we did a piece where we ended up naked and a critic in New York [wrote] that my penis looked like a pale mushroom in a dark forest of pubic hair. Isn’t that great? -¦ Those are the ones you remember.
The company will also be performing Grand Duo and Resurrection and Morris will perform the solo Peccadillos. He admits that he may not be dancing for many more years. Does this worry him?
Things get harder, I’m sorry to tell you. Not the right things, but things get more difficult. You recover from injury more slowly -¦ but you know I’m very energetic and I’m working all the time and I’m very happy with what I do. I’m not scared. He coughs. Not yet!
The Mark Morris Dance Group will be performing at the Parade Theatre, 215 Anzac Parade, Kensington, from 7 to 15 January as part of the 2003 Sydney Festival. Tickets range from $85 to $35 and may be booked on 9266 4826 or at www.sydneyfestival.org.au.