There's no place like a N.Y. abode

Mark Morris Dance Group finds permanent home in former bank

Mark Morris calls a series of backstage dressing rooms and hotel rooms home - at least six months a year - while he is on the road with the Mark Morris Dance Group.

But the concept of home will take on new meaning come January, when he and his troupe move into their own building in Brooklyn - a block away from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) where the company has performed often in the 20 years since its founding.

Morris is one of the most popular choreographers of his generation, celebrated for the outpouring of imaginative, musically astute works he has created for ballet and opera companies around the world. The music is limitless, meaning he can program works to classical music and the funkiest of contemporary sounds. Still performing with his dancers, Morris is the most expressive interpreter of his own choreography.

On a recent weekend in Boston, the troupe's performance at the Shubert Theater included works with music by Franz Shubert and Frederick Chopin and a piece that swung to the beat of country-western singers Jimmy Logsdon, George Jones, and T. Texas Tyler.

On the day after the Boston opening, Morris sat in his hotel room to talk about plans for the new home. Prior to buying the building - a former bank that had stood empty for 10 years - from the state of New York for $195,000, the Mark Morris troupe had been renting studios.

"The reality of finding a permanent home started several years ago. It was more like, 'Why not do it?,' " Morris says. "It's unfortunately a luxury for a dance company," he adds, describing the endless daily travels of many dance companies that are forced to rent a variety of places for rehearsals and to store costumes and stage properties in remote warehouses.

A visit to the new building in Brooklyn, still under construction with its walls open to traffic flowing by the corner of Lafayette Avenue and Rockwell Place, is a visionary experience.

"What will make a difference when we move in is we can leave our stuff there, take a shower, and know how hard the floor will be," says Morris. "I've been making up dances over time in different spaces, and the dances change. If the floor is hard, we're not going to jump." The new studios will have triple basket-weave wooden-sprung floors.

The company hopes to rent out the ground floor to a restaurant or a nightclub in the busy area. The five-story building will also serve as low-rent rehearsal studios for other small performance companies when the Morris troupe is on the road.

A school for both professional dancers and students in the community is also planned "to re-create what Mark had in his childhood - the fun of dancing," says Nancy Umanoff, executive director of the company.

The top-floor studio, equipped with retractable seats, a lighting grid, and curtains to cover the wall of mirrors, will also transform into a 150-seat theater for public performances.

The Mark Morris Dance Group will open its year-long, 20th anniversary celebration with a three-week season (March 6-25) at BAM, soon to be one of the company's neighbors. Five separate programs will be presented, showcasing some beloved works, including a revival of "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato" and the New York premiere of "Four Saints in Three Acts." The smaller works, which Morris calls "the arcane and the juvenilia," will be presented in June in the studio theater.

"Just having everyone working in the same building will be wonderful," Morris says.

The Mark Morris Dance Group will perform 'The Hard Nut,' Morris's irreverent version of 'The Nutcracker' in Berkeley, Calif., Dec. 8-17. A new Morris work, created for the San Francisco Ballet, will have its world premiere there on Feb. 23; and a new work for American Ballet Theatre will debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera House May 1.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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