Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mark Morris and the Ravages of Time

A set of photographs of the choreographer Mark Morris taken from 1984 to 2006 were being displayed until yesterday... the newly branded Museum of Performance and Design which is on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building on Van Ness and McAllister where the Museum of Modern Art used to display its collection.

The place used to be called the Performing Arts Library and Museum, which had the pleasing acronym of PALM, but somebody decided to change the focus, possibly because the institution is in the middle of a capital campaign to build a permanent museum for its collection relating to performing arts in the Bay Area and beyond.

There were plans afoot to build a new museum at the corner of 3rd and Howard but they've been bumped from that location by the metastatically expanding Moscone Center, so they are currently looking for space in the Civic Center area.

Mark Morris started his own modern dance company in New York at the age of 24 which was quickly lauded by all the important critics, and the young man was on his way.

At the end of the 1980s his group was invited by the infamous Gerard Mortier to be the resident dance company at La Monnaie, which is the main opera house in Brussels, Belgium.

This arrangement lasted for three years until Morris and his troupe returned to the United States accompanying the touring world premiere production of John Adams' second opera, "The Death of Klinghoffer." The dance group hated the opera and wanted to be performing their own work instead, where they were the entire focus of attention, rather than being filagree in a controversial opera about Palestinian terrorists murdering Leon Klinghoffer. I was a supernumerary hostage in that San Francisco Opera production in 1992 and used to hang out at the stage door with Morris, both of us smoking cigarettes like fiends. He was sweet, smart and funny.

He had become something of a monster by the time I saw him again in 2001 at a bookstore signing for a coffee table tome about his evening-length Handel piece, "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato." The book was a labor of love, put together by a gay couple who were groupies, and the evening featured Morris carrying on about a number of subjects with complete brilliance streaked with flashes of cruel, pointed humor, most of which I enjoyed.

He finally found a permanent home for his company in Brooklyn in 2001 after decades of wandering (click here for the very nice website), and he has also stopped dancing publicly because time and bad habits, as these photographs so graphically attest, have taken their toll.

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