A couple of years ago, the Kennedy Center’s president, Michael Kaiser, remarked in a Huffington Post blog piece about his worries for the future of modern dance.
“Virtually every great modern dance company was founded more than 40 years ago. Where is the current, not to mention next, generation of great modern dance companies to carry the torch?” he wrote in August 2009.
The post resonated among dance critics and scholars because it’s a serious and vexing issue. All sorts of reasons have been proposed, from the ending of NEA funding for individual artists in the early 1990s, to a lack of interest among mainstream Americans in abstract performance pieces. It’s not that there aren’t younger choreographers and new-ish groups doing interesting, groundbreaking work—there are. But by and large, they’re small and fringey, and it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever gain the stature of choreographers like Merce Cunningham or Paul Taylor, who reset the parameters of how modern dance is defined.
Still, there are some big companies left out there, and this weekend offers a chance to see one of them. The Mark Morris Dance Group is performing at George Mason University tonight and tomorrow night. Founded in 1980, the company is one of the few biggies (along with Bill T. Jones, who’ll be performing at the Kennedy Center later this month) that falls somewhere between the older behemoths and the younger, smaller generation of post-postmodern choreographers.
Mark Morris has a terrific irreverent streak that can make his dances delightful to watch, but he’s not viewed as a rule-breaking experimentalist, so audience members shouldn’t expect to see something really edgy; in fact, many of his pieces look downright balletic. Still, company members are top-quality, which means the dancing should be phenomenal. And that goes for the music, too: known for the musicality of his compositions, Morris always insists that the company perform to live music.
Pieces that will be performed include “Petrichor,” which premiered in October 2010 and is accompanied by music by Heitor Villa-Lobos; 1990’s “Going Away Party,” set to music by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys; 1999’s “Silhouettes,” with music by Richard Cumming; and “Excursions,” a 2008 piece set to music by Samuel Barber.
Performances are at 8pm, and tickets range from $22 to $44. Ticket holders are also invited to a pre-performance discussion at 7:15.
Photo by MMDG/Bryan Snyder