Mark Morris Dance Group returns to Ann Arbor

By Erin Steele, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 20, 2011

In the world of modern dance, few choreographers are as widely revered as Mark Morris, whose dance company will perform in Ann Arbor tonight. His widely acclaimed choreography has been performed all over the world, and The Mark Morris Dance Group has collaborated with living legends like dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, designer Isaac Mizrahi, conductor Jane Glover and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Mark Morris Dance Group


Tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Power Center
Tickets from $18


Morris has been praised in publications like The Washington Post and The New York Times. In an 2004 article for the latter, Johanna Keller called Morris “arguably the most successful and influential choreographer alive.”

For its Ann Arbor performance this week, the company will perform three of Morris’s relatively new pieces: “Excursions,” “Festival Dance” and “Socrates.”

“The names of the dances describe them fairly well,” said MMDG spokesman Bill Murray. “ ‘Excursion’ includes an element of travel and movement. ‘Festival Dance’ is what a folk festival dance might be in the mind of Mark Morris.”

Murray called “Socrates” an “impression” of the death of the Greek philosopher rather than a historically accurate take on his death sentence.

Each dance will be performed to a vocal score and original instrumentals performed by Mark Morris Music Ensemble pianist Colin Fowler. Known for his intense emphasis on musicality, Morris insists that all of his company’s performances be set to live music. This allows his dancers to respond to the subtle differences and nuances of the music at each performance, showing off rhythmical artistry as well as technical prowess. In fact, many of those who have sat in the audience at a Mark Morris performance seem to lose sight of where the music ends and the dancing begins.

Though impressive to most, this method of choreography has also elicited less favorable opinions, like that of Hedy Weiss of The Chicago Sun-Times, who wrote in February, “a more apt description of his work might be ‘slavishly musical.’ His obsessive tendency to affix one step to each beat throughout an entire piece results in a tedium that undermines the music more often than it illuminates it.”

Regardless of how viewers perceive Morris’s focus on music, many of his creations have garnered positive recognition among critics. One such piece is “Socrates,” which has captivated past audiences with its contemplative stillness and elegance.

Murray said the company is excited to return to Ann Arbor. This weekend will mark the company’s 13th and 14th UMS performances.

“There’s a great dance community in Ann Arbor, and we always enjoy coming there and performing,” Murray said.

Murray is confident that the pieces are rewarding not only for modern dance aficionados, but anyone with some level of interest in dance or popular TV shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars.”

“I think that any fan of those types of television programs would find this to be far more rewarding in that they’re not looking at a 30-second piece of choreography. They’re looking at full realized works onstage,” he said. “To see a major world renowned choreographers work in Ann Arbor is a rare treat.”