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Friday, October 10, 2014

DanceMotion USA—Mark Morris Dance Group Tours the Pacific Rim

Grand Duo. Photo: Scott Suchman

By Susan Yung

DanceMotion USA (DMUSA) completes a fourth season with one of the most popular and best-known contemporary American companies: Mark Morris Dance Group. Immediately after the premiere of Morris' new Words at New York City Center's Fall for Dance on Oct 8 & 9, the company heads to the Pacific rim for performances in Cambodia, informal showings in Timor-Leste and Taiwan, followed by dates in Beijing and Shenzhen, China. A great deal of emphasis during the Pacific tour will be directed to outreach components, also produced by DMUSA. It's a good fit, as Morris has always related to Southeast Asian music and culture.

Tiny Toones. Photo courtesy the company
Activities in Cambodia include exchange sessions with traditional Khmer musicians, an opportunity to see shadow puppetry; workshops with Amrita Dance Company (Phnom Penh) and Tiny Toones, a hip-hop organization for at-risk youth; a folk dance class with Cambodian Living Arts (a partner in Season of Cambodia in 2013); and performances in conjunction with Khmer Arts at its venue. Among the unique events of note: musicians from Royal University of Fine Arts will give a local interpretation of the music for Morris' piece Polka, and the company's technical director, Johan Henckens, will instruct Cambodians on how to make a portable sprung deck floor, which will then be donated to Khmer Arts.

In Dili, Timor-Leste—surrounded by the Indonesian archipelago—the company will participate in workshops with local hip-hop and traditional dance groups. In Taiwan, in addition to separate outreach workshops with aboriginal youth and female factory workers, MMDG will conduct a Dance for PD (Parkinson's) class, which it has helped to pioneer in recent years, and arts management classes at Taipei National University of Arts. A lineup of events is still being confirmed for Chinese cities; will list details.

Mark Morris Dance Group, Words at Fall for Dance. Photo: Ani Collier

In addition to the premiere of Words (to Felix Mendelssohn), the company will perform in Cambodia Italian Concerto (2007) to music by JS Bach, Excursions (2008) to Samuel Barber, and Polka (1992), to Lou Harrison. (Harrison, whose music Morris has turned to a number of times, is renowned for his use of the Javanese gamelan.) The troupe will also give informal showings of these works in Taiwan and Timor-Leste.

As recently noted, for the first time, one half of MMDG's 16 dancers will travel on the DMUSA tour, while the other half tours the US, Scotland, Italy, and Switzerland. Both halves of the company are teaching Polka to community groups in tour cities, and both will perform Words, choreographed so that it can be danced by eight or 16. (The dance—which displays Morris' unique ability to make the simplest of everyday movements fresh and full of meaning—received a strong ovation at the Oct 9 Fall for Dance performance at New York City Center.) The entire company will then unite to perform in China.

The troupe happens to be a Fort Greene neighbor of BAM's, where it has performed regularly since 1986. This season, master classes affiliated with the 2014 Next Wave Festival are being co-presented by BAM and Mark Morris Dance Center, and held at the center's studios, while the relationship simultaneously deepens halfway around the globe.

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