The Emperor has Decreed
Mark Morris imperiously declared that Modern Dance is “bullshit, ” in an interview with Elizabeth Schwyzer in the April 26, 2012 Santa Barbara Independent. Given his less-than-loved reputation among the contemporary choreographers whom I know, I am sure this is not the first time he’s made that statement. I was offended by his offhand arrogance. His willingness to group most of modern dance under one umbrella is unfortunate. Obviously, not all art is brilliant, whether it be modern dance, classical ballet, visual art, musical composition, drama or architectural renderings. The sweeping generalization that Morris makes about Modern Dance cannot be accepted anymore than saying most modern architecture, music or art is bullshit. It’s ridiculous. His remarks are mean-spirited and unjustified.
Had I not attended his performance last night, I might not have found it necessary to respond to his outrageous contention. However, after watching nearly two hours of his pleasing but dull choreography, I am compelled to respond. Not as a bona fide dance critic, but from the fact that I’ve been a presenter and supporter of modern dance for at least 15 years and am deeply committed to its well being. Statements like Morris made, serve no purpose, other than to justify his own choreographic formula.
Morris’s choreography generally leaves critics gushing, at least in the reviews I read. He’s won award after award. On a less professional side, he’s flamboyant and outspoken, indifferent to ruffling anyone’s feathers, seemingly uncaring about whom he offends.
Morris makes a big point of stating that his work is “rigorous,” and most other dance is “slop.” Last night’s performance provided this viewer with an almost literal visual translation of the lovely classical music that accompanied it. Rigorous, yes. But it might have been so much more! For me, it was old school choreography, imposed on his highly trained dancers. The dances were, for the most part, predictable, occasionally charming, flawlessly performed, but lacking in soul and diversity.
Boy meets girl, boy twirls girl, boy lifts girl,boy hugs girl and steals a kiss…what else is new? That format has been explored to death.
Choreographers I am drawn to are concerned with contemporary issues. Their world is expanded by improvisation, finding exciting and invigorating ways to express their ideas. They see their dancers as part of their creative process, trusting them as performing artists to explore concepts and phrases, thus making a valuable contribution. I am drawn to a movement vocabulary that doesn’t slavishly draw from ballet. There are a few other references that pop up in Morris’s work, but for the most part,the work didn’t delve as deeply, as a choreographer of his stature is capable of. His work did not expand my emotional or artistic horizon. It existed on one “rigorous” plane. It asked nothing from me as viewer and did not inspire any after thoughts.
Morris complained to Schwyzer about the “low standards of modern dance.” He misses the boat in his attack. The “low standards” he refers to might be due to lack of respect for the artistry of his contemporaries. He seems to hold low standards for his audience as well. Being at his performance was like partaking of a meal from a long existing famous restaurant, where you are expected to be pleased to be able to have a seat at the table. The restaurant chef smugly believes that if the meal is well cooked and contains good ingredients, that should be sufficient to satisfy. That way of thinking doesn’t guarantee a memorable meal.