A celebrated American choreographer looks back on his life.
“I can be demanding, even mean,” admits Morris, a boss so tough that members of his company once staged “a power coup, an organized boycott” to voice their grievances. Yet he is supportive of talent he admires. Readers see both sides of him in this memoir, co-written by musician and novelist Stace (Wonderkid, 2015, etc.). Morris begins with his Seattle childhood, when he would wedge his feet into Tupperware juice glasses to imitate older sister Marianne, who took ballet, “by walking on pointe in the front room.” From there, the author describes his early years in New York, his male lovers, his stint as Director of Dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, and his creation of some of the finest modern dances of the past 40 years, including Dido and Aeneas. Morris devotes much of the book to taking pot shots at people who have wronged him. He names a ballet teacher from his first days in New York and writes, “I couldn’t stand her,” but he doesn't say why. As a young dancer, he studied with a dance company “run by a creep called Charles Bennett.” Derek Walcott, who wrote the libretto for the Paul Simon musical The Capeman, which Morris choreographed, was “ham-fisted, bigoted, lecherous”; he “started as an asshole, ended as a monster, and finally disowned the whole thing.” Some of this opprobrium may be deserved, but the cumulative effect feels petty. Morris is equally generous with praise, however, as when he refers to the “founding women—the goddesses, the pillars” of the Mark Morris Dance Group. He also describes the geneses of his major dances and offers laudatory anecdotes about such collaborators as Yo-Yo Ma, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Lou Harrison, and others. Morris once described his philosophy of dance as, “I make it up and you watch it. End of philosophy.” That philosophy yielded marvelous results. If only the book contained more dance and less score-settling.
An uneven, sometimes bitter, yet always revealing portrait of one of America's most innovative artists.