Mark Morris and His 'Love Song Waltzes' Head to the Paramount
The Seattle-raised choreographer and director talks about his company's upcoming performance.
Fear not, lovestruck dance aficionados. Mark Morris Dance Group returns just in time to evoke swoons this Valentine’s Day. The New York ensemble—led by choreographer/artistic director and Seattle native Mark Morris—brings both long renowned and new works to the Paramount Theatre for three performances this weekend (Feb 14–16). The program consists of the passionate Love Song Waltzes, New Love Song Waltzes, and the Seattle premiere of Socrates, set to Erik Satie’s cantata “Socrate” with lyrics drawn from Plato’s dialogues.
In anticipation of the performance, we interviewed Morris about the interplay between the waltzes, the change of pace Socrates provides, and more.
How do the two separate Love Waltzes pieces interact with each other when presented in the same program?
Well first of all, the music relates—obviously—and I choreographed them in reverse chronology. I choreographed the New Love Song Waltzes very early in the ‘80s. It was one of the first dances I did for my company. And I was attracted to that music because it’s a little bit more sort of damaged—it’s more dark and more sort of worried than the other piece is—and at that time in my life I thought that was much more interesting as love dances. And then maybe six, seven, eight years later in Brussels I choreographed the Love Song Waltzes as a response to the New Love Song Waltzes, although Brahms did it the other way around. It’s more people and there’s more what would be considered waltzing in it, because the music has more waltz. I mean, they’re all written in three, but not all of them are waltzes. So the Love Song Waltzes it’s more clear, it’s a little bit happier music, and I choreographed it to match, on purpose, the other piece. So the pieces work separately or together and we’ve done them both ways. I like them as a twin set. I think it’s kind of a great range of music and dancing. So whenever we can, we do them together.
And how does Socrates, mix in with the waltzes to form a cohesive program?
It doesn’t. It has nothing to do with it. It’s a cohesive program because it’s a big range of stuff. So the Socrates—which is the newest thing on the program, I guess it’s just a couple years old—it’s stylistically very much of a different period. It’s the way I think now. And it’s a very great piece of music, one of the great pieces of 20th century music, and it’s not taken with as much seriousness as it should be. So it took me about a year to choreograph, in fact, it took a long time to get it right. And it’s very, very beautiful and plain and sober and thought-provoking and a gorgeous piece of music. And that’s for pretty much everybody; there are 15 dancers in it. So it’s meant to contrast, and also it’s a really good program and the musical forces are what we have up. A lot of my programing depends on what goes with what and who’s playing what, but also, it’s not an accident that it’s Valentine’s weekend and we’re doing these Love Song Waltzes. It’s kind of a tie-in, but it’s not sentimental, really.
How, if at all, do you feel like Seattle influenced your approach to choreography?
It didn’t. I’ve been in New York for almost 35 years. The Seattle thing is just sentimental. Of course, that’s where I learned how to dance. Of course, that’s where I grew up with my family. I still have family there. I taught briefly at the University, which was very difficult and very weird. I’m tied to Seattle in that I grew up there and people from your hometown love to claim you as a hometown boy when it suits them. And so that’s true: I absolutely grew up in Seattle, I had my early training there, I moved back as an adult for a couple of years, but I’m far beyond that. Seattle is a very interesting place; people love living there. I don’t love living there, that’s why I live in New York. I couldn’t have done what I do if I’d stayed in Seattle, of course, there’s no room for that size modern dance company there. If there’s a thing about Seattle that Seattleites want to claim as being distinctly Seattle, I don’t know what it is, and I would be hard pressed to find something that we all have in common.
When you do get back to Seattle is there anything you make sure to do, beyond visiting family and friends?
I have to see the water. I have favorite things: All of the Olmstead designed gardens from the University of Washington to Lake Washington Boulevard, all of those incredible landscaping feats, the beautiful recent architecture, the incredible Rem Koolhaas library; one of the great buildings, the Seattle Science Pavilion (Pacific Science Center); that was one of the great buildings of the West, the Sculpture Park is fabulous, the art museum is pretty darn good, the Asian Art Museum’s amazing, the (Washington Park) Arboretum is shocking and beautiful, and, you know, with this new music director the symphony is promising. They’re some very, very great things.
Over the course of time between when you first made New Love Song Waltzes to the creation of Socrates, how have you seen your style or approach evolve?
I would never imagine to say that it has evolved. That’s a nice compliment, I would imagine that it does. That’s 35 years right there, so I’m not going to give you thirty years in a one minute sound bite. I have had a company since 1980 and it’s now… whatever it is… 2014, so imagine that I must have learned something and I must have persevered in someway against a lot of odds; like the very great difficulty of raising funds to work in the United States of America and the fact that dance itself is very often seen to be pretty much a very low-level occupation compared with other aspects of the performing arts, music comes principally to mind. So I’ve always taken my work very seriously and have put forth the idea that it’s a legitimate concern—choreography and dancing and music—that it’s a real job that real adults have and it’s not just waiting to get to something else which is unfortunately sort of a regional approach to thinking about the arts in the United States which is very depressing to me. So if you only take yourself half seriously, you can’t expect others to take you fully seriously, and I think that’s probably the lesson to be learned from the longevity of my career and it’s important in the cultural landscape.
Mark Morris Dance Group
Feb 14–16, Paramount Theatre, $26–$71