From the very first page Morris’ warm , flamboyant voice captivates us in this intimate , extremely revealing book .Out loud and proud. You feel as if he is talking to you as a close friend.The book itself is of medium size and fairly thick , delightfully illustrated , with a great index at the back. It is written by Morris in collaboration with novelist/singer-songwriter Wesley Stace with great panache and frankness.
Dance lovers might be aware of Joan Acoclla’s 1993 biography
OUT LOUD takes you on a roller coaster ride through Morris’s personal life interwoven with the history of his company, the Mark Morris Dance Group .It also considers the history of modern dance and how this is linked to music through the ages.( Look at the range of composers Morris has worked with – everyone from Bach, Brahms ,Handel, Purcell, and Poulenc , Stravinsky, Vivaldi,– as well as Gershwin , Lou Harrison, Indian classical music , the Louvin Brothers, and Thai pop artists. Morris insists on live music and is extremely attentive to the score.) Mark Morris Dance Group is one of America’s major modern-dance companies, and Morris has long been regarded as both naughty and delightful as well as discerning . He has a great eye for the significant detail.
Morris was born in 1956 in Seattle to a very arty , somewhat eccentric family. We learn how he discovered his vocation at the age of nine , having watched a Jose Greco performance . His mother took him to lessons at a nearby dance school run by Verla Flowers, who taught Spanish dance, tap , hula and ballet. When he was 11, Greco himself selected him to attend a two-week workshop in flamenco, ballet, and jota.
Morris has been choreographing since the age of 14, at first works for Flowers .Early works included Jr. High to music by Conlon Nancarrow, which commented on the way he was bullied and treated at school .
He also became a member of the Balkan folk dance troupe Koleda , which still greatly influences his work even now . “Every dance I make has the germs of that experience, and those days were the first inklings of the life I have now,” he writes. “Singing and dancing simultaneously, holding hands or belts, communality, social fluency, sex for fun, slivovitz, cooking for a mob … pride of accomplishment, enduring friendships, and a never-ending interest in the music, dances, languages, and cultures of the terrifying, friendly, funny incomprehensible world.”
Eventually Morris moved to New York and eventually began his own group rather than performing in other people’s companies. It began as a small group of friends , of varying sizes and shapes. His works appeared fresh and contemporary yet were based in dance history, with a very refined sense of structure and musical sense and they also suggest(ed) deep emotion and had many layers of meaning .
In 1988 ( Morris gives Sellars the credit), Morris was hired as the dance director of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, the Belgian national opera. Out of the blue Morris acquired European-scale resources and carte blanche to show what he could do. This led to the creation of several major works.But there was much drama behind the scenes – Morris wasn’t at all what Brussels audiences expected and to Morris , they were inhospitable and perverse. Morris described Brussels as homophobic, conservative, sexist and racist, both to the press at the time and in this book .( he never hides his homosexuality) .
Various works are discussed and Morris reveals a lot about his creative work processes – eg The Hard Nut ( his version of The Nutcracker) L’Allegro , Dido and Aeneas , Gloria , Dad’s Charts ,( a tribute to his father ) , Lovey , O Rangasayee and so on are analysed minutely in structure, form and content .Mention is also made of his involvement with the fiasco of the Broadway musical The Capeman .
We learn what Morris thinks about everything ( subjects range from ballet, global music, religion and marriage ) and about everyone in his life, including the still-living people and the famous ones like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Yo-Yo Ma and the director Peter Sellars He’s very frank and revealing about drugs and his partners and sex life and the sex lives of others.
He muses about how he has had to stop performing because of his now ageing body and also about conducting the orchestra for works he has created.
He reminds us of his dislike of pre-show talks and program notes. “The dance is all I want people to see,” he rumbles. “If it’s not in the dance, it’s not there.” Questioned about his philosophy of dance, he repeats the now infamous , sincere but facetious answer he gave at his first press conference: “I make it up and you watch it.”
The book ends with Morris pondering the preservation ( or otherwise ) of his work and his legacy. Also how the school, now an integral part of the Mark Morris Dance Group , is an inspiration. At the end of his book we get the feeling that Morris would rather be back in the studio, creating more dances .
The Mark Morris Dance Group last visited Australia in 2015 and will be performing The Hard Nut in Washington from Friday 6 December.
• Hardcover: 384 pages
• Publisher: Faber Music; Main edition (7 January 2020)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0571356664
• ISBN-13: 978-0571356669
• Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.7 x 23.4 cm
• Boxed-product Weight: 621 g
Featured image: Mark Morris dance group