POSTED ON JANUARY 25, 2012:
Swing in Their Step
"Western" swing, that is, but there's more than two-steppin' with MMDG
The story, as Choregus Productions' Ken Tracy tells it, is that Mark Morris--a Seattle-born, New York City-bred modern dance icon--was enticed to bring his company to Tulsa in part because he had a special interest in Bob Wills, the Western-swing pioneer closely associated with Tulsa.
Morris begs to differ.
"It's not a special interest," he said. "I worship Bob Wills.
"The connection is, I love great music, and Mr. Wills and his Texas Playboys made great music. The advent of Western swing? An achievement and a beautiful gift to American culture."
Bringing great music to life is the genius of this choreographer, whose world-renowned Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG), based in Brooklyn, will perform in Tulsa for the first time Feb. 3-4 at 8 pm at the Williams Theater of the PAC.
When he founded his company in 1980, Morris was a young folk dancer with taste for the human element in dance, using humor and rich physicality to express all dimensions of life--the awkward as well as the joyous.
Since then he has become a revered figure in modern dance, creating more than 120 works for MMDG and dozens more for ballet and opera companies around the world. He's earned 11 honorary doctorates and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.
Still, for Morris it all comes back to one thing: the music.
"I live for music," he said, "and I make up dances in order to convey my take on music."
Morris described the Tulsa program as "an all-American show," since three of the four works are set to music by American composers.
"Canonic 3/4 Studies is a suite of etudes set to wonderful, unusual, ballet-class-type music by various composers," he explained. "Silhouettes is a duet to music by composer Richard Cumming, based on American vernacular music. Grand Duo [one of Morris' most famous works] is a big, ritualistic dance for 14 to the Grand Duo for Violin and Piano of the great American composer Lou Harrison. It is in four movements and it is gorgeous."
And, in Tulsa's honor, there's Going Away Party, a poignant and slightly risqué romp created in 1990, set to the music of Wills.
Morris' mantra? "Listen and watch."
"There's nothing to fear from a dance show, save boredom, and that won't kill you. Happily," he said, "my shows are never boring. Come and listen and watch and don't worry and don't decide in advance that it is good or good for you or incomprehensible, and don't translate it into another language.
"If you feel that a show is talking down to you or is pretentious or boring or phony ... leave. I like to watch television, too."
Morris confirmed that he hopes to visit Cain's Ballroom--the home of Bob Wills--while he's in town.
The company will lead a full day of classes for the community on February 4 at The Dance Pointe, including a free "Dance for Parkinson's Disease Patients" class.
The first of several innovative local dance events in the spring season takes place this weekend as the University of Tulsa Department of Theater presents "So TU, Think You Can Dance?"
The idea to put on an interactive show modeled on popular TV dance competitions came from members of Terpsichore, a student-led dance group within the theater department.
"This is a really strong core group of dancers," said Jessica Vokoun, assistant professor of dance. "We wanted to do something very entertaining and fun. This was the perfect format for that."
TU students will perform their original choreography, as well as works by faculty and a witty, jittery piece called Caffeinated by New York City choreographer Larry Keigwin, whose troupe Keigwin + Company rocked the Williams Theater last fall.
Audiences will see the results of a months-long elimination process as the best of TU's dancer/choreographers present their work.
"After the first round, we narrowed it down based on who was most talented, easiest to work with, and most invested and charismatic," Vokoun explained.
"All the choreographers voted on the top 10. Those 10 were given the chance to work with Keigwin and create their own solos.
"Expect to see jazz, tap, hip hop, contemporary, modern, even a little showgirl dance."
Jo Wimer, costume designer at Tulsa Ballet, is creating the costumes.
Local and national names in dance--including Hanson choreographer Heather Hall Newman, The Bell House's Rachel Bruce Johnson, Tulsa Ballet's Alfonso Martin, Broadway choreographer Chet Walker, and Chuck Cissel, artistic director of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, who was in the original cast of A Chorus Line--will serve as guest judges and offer live commentary on the performances.
As on TV, audience members will text their votes at the end of the show to choose the winner.
"So TU, Think You Can Dance?" runs Jan. 27-28 at 8pm at the Gussman Concert Hall in TU's new Lorton Performance Center.
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