This week, as he does every spring, the shaggy dance provocateur Mark Morris returns to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He’ll even be making one of his increasingly rare appearances onstage, dancing a short trio called From Old Seville. Alicia Zuckerman spoke with him in his eclectically furnished office.
Judging from your décor, it seems like you collect religious paraphernalia.
Yeah, I have a lot of Jesus stuff and a lot of Ganesha stuff. I like the drama and the colors, and I like the significance that people place on religious articles. Although I’ve had about enough of the pope, I’ll tell you that. I’m not religious—at all.
That was my next question.
I’m not anti-religion, I’m atheist. If it works for you, go for it. Really, please do. Pray for me if you need to, but . . .
You’ve often used religion as a kind of springboard for your dances.
Well, that’s because a lot of really great music was written from a religious viewpoint. However devout Bach was—and people think that he was quite devout—that’s great, great, great music.
This season, you’re dancing again.
I know, which is why I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. It’s not a big dance, it’s just me. I don’t want to talk about one five-minute piece on a two-and-a-half-hour program.
Fine. So what comes next?
Somebody’s Coming to See Me Tonight, which is a dance from about ten years ago, which is to beautiful songs by Stephen Foster, all around the Civil War period. I love his music—everybody knows it, and people either think nobody wrote it or that it’s somehow racist. Then there’s a piece called Silhouettes, which is to Richard Cumming, a wonderful composer in Rhode Island.
You’ve said many times that the music comes first—even before dance. Isn’t that kind of a striking thing to say?
What do you mean?
Well, one would imagine a choreographer would say that dance comes first.
Oh, I see. Well, it doesn’t have to, of course, as a very tiny minority of artists in the United States and some of Western Europe have decided. People dance because of rhythm and music.
What about the criticism that your work is too tied into the music, too literal—note-note-note, step-step-step?
How can it possibly be too literal? Unless it’s the “Hokey Pokey”: You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out. If I were doing just what it says, my setting of Brahms’s Neue Liebeslieder Waltzer would be identical to Balanchine’s. If literal means there’s a turn on a trill, or you dance fast when the music’s fast and slow when the music’s slow, then fine, I’m guilty.
By the way, I see you have a Jacuzzi in your office.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. It’s therapy—I have a physical job. I also have a urinal.
Is that better than a regular toilet?
If you were a man, you would know that.