Last friday I went to see the Mark Morris company perform in Bradford. When I lived in New York Mark Morris was a name I heard, and saw, a lot and I have even attended an audition (not for Mark Morris but for a chance to do a free class with Ron K Brown) at the company's 'dance center' in Brooklyn but I have never seen the work before and had no idea what it was like.
I have to say I wasn't in the best mood - I was ill and had to run from school to get the train and it was a pretty cold, so I was already thinking I'd rather be in my bed. And to be honest bed would have been a much better option.
I spent most of the show slightly confused - by the dancing, what was trying to be communicated and the fact that people were clapping and cheering as though it was good.
I which point I must diverse and say the audience drove me crazy. I think most A level courses from around Yorkshire were attending and boy could you tell. The cheering began as soon as the lights went down (why cheer when you haven't even seen the piece?!) and only got louder when the whole company appeared on stage AND the men had no tops on. Oh my God! Definitely cheer worthy! When the cheers subsided the amount of sweet packet opening and general crunchy wrapper sounds was enough to drown out the pianist.
Anyway, back to the dancing. Sitting next to me were three girls studying on the NSCD foundation course, one of which very sweetly whispered to me 'are you enjoying it?' I replied that at it wasn't really my style and she answered 'yes, we've just seen so much dance with a lot of movement it looks like they are standing still'. Which was an interesting observation, although they didn't move a lot I had seen a lot of movement. But I understood what she meant. It was, from my perspective, a typical example of American contemporary dance - all lines and shapes, moving from tableau to tableau, image driven but (for me) hard to relate to. Somehow there was a lack of real emotion. I could see the performance, rather than believing the performance.
As a choreography student it was interesting to watch - I took it as a lesson in what not to do. Especially one of the pieces, which had a cowboy theme. It used the combination of the songs lyrics with physical actions to make a series of crude jokes. It left nothing to the imagination and consequently left me feeling uninterested and a little bit offended. It wasn't funny and it wasn't clever.
The last piece of the night, an epic whole cast piece (I have no idea what it was about and by this point I'd lost the desire to try and figure it out) was a reminder of the importance of small details. As the piece progresses both the men and the women changed, from longer dresses to short dress/tunic type things. As they danced away I got distracted by the fact that one of the men seemed to have no shorts on under his dress. No, I thought, its just the light. At one point the dancers lay on their sides facing backstage and it became apparent that the men were only wearing their jock straps. Someone behind me gasped and I heard an utterance of 'he's a man and he's wearing a thong?!'. And so the piece continued, with the constant distraction of potential bottom flashes.
Now, I don't have a problem with bare bottoms on stage. If they add to the piece and seem relevant. But in this case it was pointless and distracting. The women all wore shorts so why not the men? Was it some private pleasure that Mark Morris likes his men to dance short less? Or did they all just forget? To me it highlighted the importance of getting the costuming right, it should add, not distract, from the movement.
So, if you want to see an American choreographer with over thirty different honors and awards, and you would like to be flashed a bit of male dancer bottom at the same time, you should catch the Mark Morris company while they are still in England.