It is problematic calling yourself “the Mozart of …” anything. And yet, that’s how the choreographer Mark Morris, in his press materials, chooses to frame his creativity — as the “Mozart of Modern Dance.” Morris, 65, whose 42-year-old Mark Morris Dance Group will present four performances of his 2006 creation, “Mozart Dances,” at Santa Monica’s The Broad Stage next weekend, has fashioned his deep knowledge of classical music into his brand. But his real point of distinction at this stage is that he’s among a select few original choreographer still operating his own company, ancillary school, and community work — since the 1980s. Unlike the other of our major troupes in this category — Graham, Ailey, Taylor, whose founding geniuses have passed away, thus mandating works by new creators — MMDG is a vehicle for Morris’s work only.
“Mozart Dances,” a full-evening work spools to three piano concerti delivered live on stage — a huge treat. It was a prestigious commission for Morris by Lincoln Center for its “Mostly Mozart Festival” celebrating Wolfgang’s 250th birthday in 2006. The piece comprises three sections. The dances to the piano concertos No. 11 in F (K. 413) and No. 27 in B flat (K. 595) are called “Eleven” and “Twenty-seven” and sandwich the dance “Double,” set to the Sonata in D for Two Pianos (K. 448),
Choreographers have tread lightly on Mozart’s delicate toes over the years. Balanchine, who even Mark Morris will agree was our most musical of dance makers, created Mozartiana (1981) comprising several short works by one genius composer arranged by yet another, Tchaikowsky. Another Mozart ballet by Balanchine was Divertimento No. 15 (1956). Twyla Tharp took on the challenge in Ballare (1989), also set to a Mozart sonata for two pianos, also performed live on stage, also dressing her dancers in all-white.
In my prior writing about Mr. Morris’s masterwork, L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato set to Handel, which I reviewed in good faith for the Los Angeles Times, I shared my reaction to Morris’s tight grip on his dancers, pacing them through repetitive patterns as the performers wilt behind affectless expressions. I yearned for the choreographer to loosen up, and let his puppets fly. That won’t happen in the Mozart evening for sure … what we’ll see is highly controlled, clever patterning in a visual manifestation of the music’s gorgeously woven threads.
That’s why (writing as the Mozart of dance critics) my trepidation is that three acts of choreography by the same dance maker performed to three piano sonatas by the same composer, however brilliant, may prove too much of a good thing. An overabundance, perhaps? Something akin to a triple-helping of custard cream cakes (“cremeschnitte”), a favorite in the Austrian-born composer’s homeland.
But let’s see. My guess is that audiences will find it enthralling … uplifting. And that very well may include me.
Mozart Dances | Mark Morris Dance Group | The Broad Stage | June 9 – 12