The extravagantly talented dancer has a dashing lack of filterby Jane Shilling / November 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
In 1988, newly installed as the director of dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels at the age of 32, the choreographer Mark Morris gave his first press conference. What, asked a journalist, was his philosophy of dance? Morris’s predecessor, Maurice Béjart, had been a prodigious philosophiser, providing “30 pages of programme notes for every new dance.” But Morris’s answer ran to far fewer than 30 words: “I make it up and you watch it. End of philosophy.” It was the first of a series of pungent obiter dicta that would infuriate the Belgian press and audiences. But in his memoir, pointedly titled Out Loud, Morris defends his one-liner: “It was looked upon as a snub or a provocation, but… it’s the truth.”
Throughout his career, Morris has always spoken his mind with a dashing lack of filter on everything from the Belgian Queen Fabiola’s coiffure (“the Maggie Thatcher hairdo of death”) to the Nobel laureate Derek Walcott with whom he worked on Paul Simon’s Broadway flop The Capeman (“ham-fisted, bigoted, lecherous, dismissive, patronising and belligerent”).
On his own work, he has been less expansive: “Art shouldn’t need translation. If the artist has to explain things, then he or she may be working in the wrong form.” But at 63, with his dancing (though not his dance-making) days over, Morris is in a more reflective mood: “I now find myself less reluctant to share secrets, happier to let people in on what goes into making up a dance, the workings of my company, my choreographic imagination, and the way these are all aspects of who I am.”
Morris was born in Seattle in 1956, the youngest child of Bill Morris, a high school teacher, and his wife, Maxine, “a woman of completely conventional appearance and manners,” according to his biographer, Joan Acocella, “who was absolutely unswerving in her support of [her] unconventional child.” His formal dance training began when he was nine: his eldest sister, Marianne, was taking pointe classes and, he writes, “I crammed my feet into Tupperware juice glasses so I could imitate her by walking on pointe.” His mother enrolled him with a dance teacher, Verla Flowers, who quickly “saw in me a prodigy, someone worthy of her extra attention and time.”