Mark Morris's Top Five Dance Scores

Monday, August 15, 2011

Increasingly, Mark Morris is the choreographer of choice in the world of classical music presenting. Once the bad boy of modern dance, today he calls himself "a musician, in the form of a choreographer," and his Dance Group's program at the Mostly Mozart Festival (Aug. 18-20) is characteristic of his tastes: On tap is Renard, a new work set to Stravinsky’s Renard, Festival  Dance (2011), set to a Hummel Piano Trio and Socrates (2010), set to Satie’s Socrate. "I've always been drawn to Baroque music, early Classical music and basically modernist music from the 20th century," he explained.

Morris, who also remains busy these days as an opera director, said he is less interested in choreographing 19th century music, which is too programmatic. "Not just ballet scores but something like [Strauss's] Ein Heldenleben where every second of the plot is planned out. It's like 'what do you need to do a dance for?'" Nevertheless, a little Tchaikovsky seeps onto his Top Five list:

Mark Morris's Top Five

1. Tchaikovsky: Sleeping Beauty

2. Stravinsky: Les Noces

3. Bartok: The Wooden Prince

4. Prokofiev: Romeo & Juliet

5. Ravel: La Valse


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Comments [4]

William Zucker from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Harry, you say that choreographers complain that Prokofiev dominates the scenario too much?

As a musician, I am perhaps a bit biased if I say that I would consider that a good thing. But the choreography still in some way has to respond to the music, and not work against it.

There have indeed been some very successful realizations of established works in the classical repertoire not intially balletic in conception. But it takes an exceptional choreographer to bring such to fruition. For me the jury is still out when it comes to the likes of Mark Morris or Francis Petrelle.

I will say this, however (you are free to disagree). When a choreographer takes it upon him/herself to set an established classical piece in this manner, a grave responsibility is assumed. The essential outline of the music as it was written must be fully respected.

Thus, I deplore the ministrations by Balanchine to Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings (the extra Trio in the Waltz and the reversal of the last two movements) and crave for the day when some one else will come along and set the work as it was intended to be heard.

I say the same about Lars Lubovich with the Brahms Third Symphony, leaving it to end with the third movement when there is a musical necessity for the Finale to follow segue. He eventually added on the last movement (seemingly under pressure as he did not regard it as part of the work, but there must have been many howls of protest). When I went to finally see this revised version (complete for me) it was plain that his own scenario ended with the third movement and thus was out of alignment with the work as a whole. That is the best explanation I can provide.

Once again, you are perfectly free to disagree with me.

Aug. 18 2011 12:45 PM
Harry Matthews from Brooklyn, NY

I'm a bit surprised to see "Romeo and Juliet" on the list, as well. The score is striking, but choreographers have all complained that Prokofiev dictates the action of every scene.

As a general rule, choreographers avoid well known pieces. Twyla Tharp had an unfortunate encounter with Beethoven's 7th in 2000. George Balanchine loved Mozart, but never thought of turning the Jupiter symphony into dance. Morris is exceptional in turning three famous Mozart piano concerti into a memorable ballet.

In a WQXR interview, Morris once speculated about a ballet based on Vivaldi's very familiar "Four Seasons." That never happened, but he did make a masterpiece to Handel's "L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, ed If Moderato."

Aug. 18 2011 03:30 AM
William Zucker from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Interesting, to say the least. As a matter of fact, why would a score like Ein Heldenleben be off limits? We are not necessarily bound to the program in a piece of music but rather form our own images. The symphonies of Mahler complete have been set on numerous occasions.

The Stuttgart Ballet Company's setting of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto (all four movements) is one of the best of its kind.

Why be so unreceptive to the idea of using nineteenth century romantic music?

The four movement group of Leroy Anderson's settings of Broadway musical medleys are another example of something that might be consideredfor a scenario. Or are we reflexively snobbish when it comes to the lighter forms of music? Just a thought.

Aug. 18 2011 12:51 AM

A great idea

Aug. 17 2011 08:15 PM

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