Choreographer Mark Morris doesn’t see cultural boundaries when he’s creating art. In a social landscape where appropriation is a hot-button issue, he refuses to block himself off from other cultures. “That’s not how the art works, and certainly not how I work as a choreographer,” says Morris. “I’m going from the text, the music, the rhythms. I make it afresh based on a certain amount of knowledge and experience.”
Morris starts with the music, and strives to fully understand the histories and traditions behind whatever piece he’s interpreting. He spent ten years doing research for Layla and Majnun, an evening-length work based on a classic Arabian love story that has gone through multiple permutations over the centuries and even served as the inspiration for Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” Morris teamed up with visual artist Howard Hodgkin and the musicians of Silkroad (formerly the Silk Road) Ensemble to create a vibrant, kinetic take on the tragic romance.
“I’m a choreographer who works in what people call ‘modern dance,’ but that doesn’t mean I take a little bit of Azerbaijani ethnic movement and combine it with the general language of American modern dance,” says Morris. “Those things don’t exist in my world. This is a dance that I made up, and it incorporates what I need it to: a particular way of dancing that is communicative based on the culture. The story has been through a lot of different points of view, and I want to unite them in producing this show.”