Mark Morris Dance Group at the Joyce Delivers Seldom-Seens and Notable Firsts

BY ELIZABETH ZIMMER | The astonishing thing about the Mark Morris Dance Group’s upcoming season at the Joyce Theater is that it has never happened before. Morris, who founded the troupe in Seattle in 1980, showed his early work in tiny black box spaces like Dance Theater Workshop (now replaced at the same 219 W. 19th St. address by New York Live Arts). He landed on the opera house stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1984, and has rarely looked back, choreographing for major ballet troupes and touring his own ensemble all over the world, always with live music, and often in grand halls. He also conducts, directs operas, sings, and has been making dances to be released only after his death.

“Grand Duo” photo by Jim Coleman.

Meanwhile the mid-size Joyce, founded in 1982 and now the premier dance production theater in the country, has a stage too small for the grand pieces Morris started making 40 years ago, and no convenient place to stash an orchestra, so he took his work elsewhere. When he was 32 years old, he was offered the directorship of the Royal Theatre of La Monnaie, in Brussels; the invitation came with full-time salaries and health insurance for his troupe, as well as full-time access to an opera house stage and an orchestra. While there he made, among other triumphs, his enduring seasonal classic The Hard Nut, a very 1970s take on The Nutcracker. His accomplishments since returning to New York in 1991 are awe-inspiring—they include a number of large-scale masterworks, 11 honorary doctorates, winning practically every award available to a choreographer, becoming the subject of a biography by critic Joan Acocella, and writing his own autobiography, Out Loud, in collaboration with Wesley Stace.

Music is Morris’ middle name; he was a serious folk dancer as a very young person in Seattle and studied flamenco in Spain and South Asian styles in India. “I choreograph because music makes me thrilled and crazy and I want to make up dances to it. I’m pro-music,” he recently told Chelsea Community News.

In 2001 he landed the dream of many a choreographer: His own headquarters, including a school, in downtown Brooklyn across the street from BAM. The big studio in that building, which has room for musicians as well as dancers and a modest audience, has become the primary local showcase for his smaller works.

“All Fours” photo by Stephanie Berger.

The pandemic dealt his operation a serious blow, as it did to the entire performing arts community. “It was horrible and tragic and has ruined a lot of things,” he recalls. “We did everything we possibly could, which was not shutting down. The dancers were at home, and you can’t dance at home; it doesn’t work. We gradually came back, did outdoor dances. It was difficult, there were people missing, ill, or they couldn’t get back.”

But get back they finally did. Of the dances they’re mounting at the Joyce, he says, “Most of them no one has done before, very different one from the other. A very interesting mixed bag of repertory.” Dancers who had left the troupe have returned to teach the choreography to the present members.

These short dances, eight of which fill two programs at the Joyce, range from the 1980 Castor and Pollux, which has a score by Harry Partch, to the world premiere of A Minor Dance, accompanied by a Bach partita. Six works will have live music, performed by the Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble. These include, on the first bill (August 1-5), Numerator and Grand Duo, both to music by Lou Harrison, and Italian Concerto, to Bach.

The second program, which opens August 8, consists of the new Bach piece All Fours (2003) to Béla Bartok; Tempus Perfectum, a recent work to Brahms that has been seen previously only in a digital version; and Castor and Pollux, the music for which, Morris says, is “outlandishly difficult and expensive” because Partch tended to use enormous instruments of his own invention. “If I put them onstage,” says the choreographer, “there wouldn’t be room to dance.” So that will be performed to a recording, as will A Wooden Tree (2012), on the first week’s program; it has a vocal score performed by the late Scottish songwriter Ivor Cutler.

“A Wooden Tree” photo by Stephanie Berger.

Morris turns 67 this summer, but he shows no signs of slowing down. After three frustrating years he’s got several projects ready to come to the boil. His staging of Orfeo ed Euridice will be back at the Metropolitan Opera next spring, and he’s aiming to direct a single-character opera.

“I don’t automatically travel every place with my company now,” he said. “Sam Black is my rehearsal director. I have less to do but I’m still working a lot and thinking.” About the current Joyce season, which at press time was nearly sold out, he says, “It”s a big deal for us and we’re delighted to do it. I’ll be there every night. It’s like voting: Vote early and often. Come!“

Mark Morris Dance Group: Aug. 1-12 at the Joyce Theater (175 Eighth Ave. at W. 19th St.)

Tues./Wed. at 7:30pm; Thurs./Fri. at 8pm; Sat. at 2pm & 8pm

For online purchase of tickets ($10-$91), click here. Call JoyceCharge at 212-242-0800 for $10 tickets

Program A, Aug. 1-5: Numerator, A Wooden Tree, Italian Concerto, Grand Duo

Program B, Aug. 8-12: A Minor Dance, Castor and Pollux, Tempus Perfectum, All Fours

To view the Mark Morris Dance Group website, click here.

“Numerator” photo by Christopher Duggan.


Chelsea Community News is an independent, hyperlocal news, arts, events, info, and opinion website made possible with the help of our awesome advertisers and the support of our readers. Our Promise: Never a paywall, no pop-up ads, all content is FREE. With that in mind, if circumstances allow, please consider taking part in our GoFundMe campaign (click here). To make a direct donation, give feedback, send a Letter to the Editor, or contact our founder/editor, email Scott Stiffler via

To join our subscriber list, click here. It’s a free service providing regular (weekly, at least) Enewsletters containing links to recently published content. Subscribers also will be sent email with “Sponsored Content” in the subject line.  That means it’s an exclusive message from one of our advertisers, whose support, like yours, allows us to offer all content free of charge. 

You must be logged in to post a comment Login