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Conversation with Mark Morris and Nacho Duato

Moderated by Septime Webre, Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet

by Carmel Morgan

October 20, 2008 -- The Washington Ballet Studios, Washington, DC

On October 20, 2008, the Washington Ballet invited some its patrons to an intimate, in-studio conversation with two of the most exciting choreographers of today – Mark Morris and Nacho Duato.  Both Morris and Duato were in Washington, DC to coach the Washington Ballet’s dancers in upcoming works – Morris’s “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” and Duato’s “Cor Perdut.”  They graciously agreed to sit and answer some questions about their choreography, and they were fascinating guests. 

Morris explained that “Drink” was originally choreographed for the American Ballet Theatre.  Mikhail Baryshnikov requested a piece that he could be in.  The dance began with four movements and eventually grew to involve six couples.  Morris, with a fabulous smile, said that “Drink” was part of his “ancient style.”  He noted that now his dances are less complicated than they used to be.

Morris told the enrapt audience that he always works from music and always uses live music.  Baroque music and vocal music were early draws.  Singers are like dancers, said Morris, in that they are both all they’ve got and their art is alive.  His musical tastes have changed somewhat over time, in that now he likes more types of music.  Yet he mentioned that he never likes anything current.  Working with Paul Simon on the Broadway musical “The Capeman” is among his most thrilling moments, even though the musical flopped.   

In reflecting on the “ghastly” TV shows that feature dance lately, Morris said that he is all for them if they bring attention to dance.  The arts need nourishment.  He commented about how expensive it is to run a dance company, and how little there is in terms of government funding.   

Morris admitted that he relishes control.  He discussed his recent foray into conducting.  In February 2008, in a DC area performance, Morris conducted the Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble in a performance of Henry Purcell’s 1689 opera “Dido and Aeneas.”  It was hard, according to Morris.  You have to face the other direction, and you must also stay in advance of the musicians.  He described the experience as being like speeding on the Autobahn in the dark, in the rain, in a rental car, without reading any German.  Indeed, Morris said he learned a “tempo lesson,” as apparently his dancers complained that the music was too fast.      

Nacho Duato, who has been Artistic Director of the Compañía Nacional de Danza since June 1990, spoke after Morris.  Duato studied dance at the Rambert School in London, at Maurice Béjart’s Mudra School in Brussels, and at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Centre in New York.  Jirí Kylián brought him to the Nederlands Dans Theater in Holland, where Duato eventually became Resident Choreographer.  Duato counts Kylián as his biggest inspiration, his “artistic father.”  With great admiration, Duato mentioned that he did not think the cord has been broken completely between Kylián and himself.

Duato’s “Cor Perdut,” a pas de deux which is being set on dancers from the Washington Ballet, was choreographed as a birthday present for a singer with whom Duato had been working.  He did the choreography in two or three evenings after work, in about six hours, and he performed the male role himself.  Duato didn’t anticipate performing the work more than once, but it was hugely successful.  It is a duet about love and leaving, and the title means “Lost at Heart” in Catalan. 

Like Morris, Duato confessed that music is his first source of inspiration.  Duato has a particular love of folk music, which he considers closely connected to dance since both folk music and dance are made to gather and share something important.  Also like Morris, Duato said that he doesn’t think in “steps.”  Instead, he thinks in terms of expression.  He explained that he sees dance as a means of reaching something higher than ourselves.

According to Duato, his choreography, like Morris’s, has changed over time.  Now, Duato said, he has become more introspective.  He no longer shouts “look at me,” as he did when he was younger.  Also, like Morris, Duato said that presently “more is less” and that his choreography currently contains fewer steps. 

Duato commented about the difference in arts funding in the United States and Europe.  He said he feels that in the US, the pressure of having to fill the house in order to break even influences choreographic choices.  For example, most US ballet companies perform “The Nutcracker” every year.  In Spain, the public support for dance allows him greater freedom to do what he feels.

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