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Dance Renaissance-Mark Morris Dance Group’s much-awaited return to Houston

Dance Renaissance

Mark Morris Dance Group’s much-awaited return to Houston

by Rich Arenschieldt • Photo by Marc Royce

A transformative blend of music and movement awaits Houston audiences in the bleak mid-winter as Society for the Performing Arts brings the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) to Wortham Theater Center for a duo of performances January 15 and 16.

Mark Morris
Mark Morris

For three decades Morris has been astonishing audiences with his eloquent and insightful blending of ballet and sound. Lavish and wholly deserved praise has been heaped upon this gay iconoclast, whose artistic comrades have included superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, director Peter Sellers, and conductor James Levine.

Since its founding in 1980, the company has established itself as a universal creative force, easily gaining the dance world’s artistic imprimatur. MMDG’s acquisition and opening of their Brooklyn-area school and performance space in 2001 was the catalyst for a neighborhood renaissance, institutionalizing the company’s local, national, and international presence.

Morris’s creative output of more than 120 works, including L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, seen here in 2002, puts him on a par with other giants of dance—Ashton, Robbins, Ailey, and the revered Balanchine.

Like an unchaperoned golden retriever, Morris has been bolting after and snatching creative endeavors with complete abandon. Known by his peers as an artist who revels in all things musical, Morris has tentacled his way into the über opera world, directing and choreographing several recent productions—most notably, the 2009 Metropolitan Opera live HD broadcast of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, a production Morris premiered in 2007.

As the first choreographer to direct a production at The Met in the last 50 years, Morris and company successfully harkened back to an earlier age, when opera and dance were inseparable components, melded together in importance. MMDG’s participation, on an equal footing with Gluck’s music, served to amplify the entire operatic endeavor. For its Houston appearance, MMDG brings an expected salmagundi of works. Known for his penchant for baroque-era musical accompaniments, Morris opens with his Italian Concerto, set to the sprightly piano music of J.S. Bach.

Dancers from The Grand Duo.
Dancers from The Grand Duo.

While other dance troupes use recorded (rather than live) music, Morris has a longstanding artistic and financial commitment to incorporating live music whenever possible, presenting more than 800 programs where musicians accompany his dancers. Pianist Colin Fowler and violinist Michi Wiancko provide the live music for some of the Houston performances.

Bob Willis and his Texas Playboys lend a Texas musical twang to Morris’s Going Away Party, followed by Excursions, set to the music of American composer Samuel Barber.

The evening concludes with Morris’s influential Grand Duo, a four-movement work utilizing the entire ensemble, set to music of the same name written for piano and violin, by gay American composer Lou Harrison. Morris and Harrison share an artistic commonality—a strong interest in melding eastern and western elements within their respective art forms, dance and music.

In addition to the evening’s performances there are two other events of interest for MMDG fans:

• Mark Morris: Portraits—15 portraits of Mark Morris by photographers Annie Leibovitz, Max Vadukul, William Wegman, and others on view at Allen Center through January 13.

• Mark Morris in conversation with Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch,?Thursday, January 14, 7:30 p.m., at the Menil Collection.

Tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at 713/227-4SPA.

Rich Arenschieldt profiled DJ Chad Guidry in the December 2009 issue of OutSmart magazine.

Got a comment?—[email protected].


Rich Arenschieldt

Rich has written for OutSmart for more than 25 years, chronicling various events impacting Houston’s queer community. His areas of interest and influence include all aspects of HIV treatment and education as well as the milieu of creative endeavors Houston affords its citizenry, including the performing, visual and fine arts. Rich loves interviewing and discovering people, be they living, or, in his capacity as a member of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, deceased.

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