Mark Morris’s Legacy Plan? Posthumous Premieres

Mark Morris’s Legacy Plan? Posthumous Premieres

Part of a $25 million fund-raising campaign — Mark Morris: Above and Beyond — to support Mr. Morris’s work and legacy, Dances for the Future has already begun: Mr. Morris is nearly finished creating its first work, set to Scarlatti.

“There are duets, trios, quartets,” he said. “I’m going to complete it — it’ll just take a few days to really pinch it off — and then we put it away. It’s quite complicated and quite beautiful.”

The way to document the finished works hasn’t been completed yet, but each will be accompanied by extensive musical notes, Labanotation — a method for recording dances — interviews with dancers and video from multiple angles. Designs for each dance will be created, though not built. And five to seven years after a work is first choreographed it will be restaged in the studio and additional notes added.

There are other components to the legacy plan aside from posthumous dances. Along with the Mark Morris Archive, which will painstakingly preserve dances for future stagings, there is the expansion of the center itself, including the addition of three studios to the existing seven. So far, the organization has raised $16.6 million toward a $25 million goal with a deadline of 2020, which coincides with its 40th anniversary.

The plan is a proactive response to a major issue in the dance world. While Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has thrived since the death of its founder, many companies have faced traumatic challenges, like the Martha Graham organization, which fought legal battles with Graham’s heir, Ronald Protas. (The organization won.)

After the deaths of Pina Bausch and Merce Cunningham — her company is still active, but his was disbanded after his death — Ms. Umanoff started to seriously consider the future of the Mark Morris organization. For her, its sustainability comes down to Mr. Morris’s dances, which keep the whole operation running.

“People always say, ‘You need an endowment,’ and I think, what am I going to do with that money after Mark is gone and can’t create new work?” she said.


A 2011 performance of “Grand Duo,” also on the Lou Harrison program.

Erin Baiano

Mr. Morris, who does not allow his dances to be performed by other companies — exceptions are made for colleges and for the operas and ballets he’s made outside of his group — knows that his dances will alter dramatically, as he put it, “Once I’m cold.”

What’s important to him is keeping his center going. “The building, the school,” he said, “that’s what I care about.” His dance center trains adults and children, from beginner to professional level. It’s also a rehearsal space for countless New York choreographers; and where Dance for PD, an acclaimed, now-global program offers specialized dance classes for those with Parkinson’s disease, was born.

If it’s important to Mr. Morris that his works live on, it is, he said: “For the sake of the people I work with, yes. And for the people going to the school here — the 5-year-olds.”

His blue eyes welled up. “I’m crying — it’s me, crying,” he said. “I do it a lot.”

As for a successor, Mr. Morris said he had given it some thought — but just thought. “I’m not scouting,” he said.

For now, he has a season to think about. This week and next, several of his finest dances will be on display, including the new “Little Britten” and a program devoted to the music of Lou Harrison. The engagement also includes the revival of “One Charming Night,” a 1985 duet about a vampire and a young woman; Dallas McMurray takes over the part originally danced by Mr. Morris.

“It’s very dark and upsetting,” Mr. Morris said. “Vampires come and go, and I’ve always been thrilled by that idea and, of course, the torment of eternal life. Who could bear that?”

But his dances will live on. Mr. Morris appreciates a challenge, and with Dances for the Future he has an invigorating one. “I want to make a dance that’s going to be done,” he said. “I don’t need to do études in the studio anymore. I can do that in my head on the plane. I just try not to make up the same dance twice in a row.”

And if he choreographs a piece that he wants to show now, he can and will.

“It’s not a publicity stunt,” he said. “I’m really doing it. I love making up dances and I start one if I have time, and then Nancy says, ‘Oh God, now we have to find a budget and a time to show this new dance.’ Well, that’s a nice problem to have instead of just presenting a slightly altered thing to other music and having it be a world premiere,” he said. “That’s just cynical. And it’s not very fun.”

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