- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

At the beginning of his career, Mark Morris attracted almost as much attention for his flamboyant personal style and wit as for his wildly imaginative, well-crafted dances. Twenty-five years later, his candor still adds to his offbeat charm, but the range, depth and musicality of his prolific output take center stage, making him one of the most highly regarded, sought-after choreographers in the world.

The Morris company returns to George Mason University’s Center for the Arts this weekend, bringing three new-to-Washington works plus his masterful opus “Rhymes With Silver,” set to music he commissioned for his friend Yo Yo Ma. It was composed by another friend, the late Lou Harrison.

Talking about the two musicians, Mr. Morris says of Mr. Ma: “What’s so great for someone who’s had such a big, long career [is] every performance is different. He rethinks everything all the time, and so do we, which of course is why we insist on live music.”

When he was working with Mr. Harrison, “I asked specifically only for a cello and a piano part — everything else was up to him,” Mr. Morris says. “But being smart, he made it a group we could tour with, and it was completely up to me to decide the sequence, how many repeats, stuff like that. So I could tailor a dance that would work well in the theater. It was fantastic.”

Mr. Ma is not with the tour this time, but Mr. Morris is, dancing a flamboyant, tongue-in-cheek Spanish piece — “In Old Madrid.” His appearances onstage these days are rare but spellbinding, no matter how much his love of beer adds to his girth.

“It’s a short little dance number, and that’s all I can tell you,” he says. “Let’s call it an opener.” Asked if it was one of his gender-bending works, he laughs and replies, “Oh it’s part of it, not the only part, but sure.”

“Rock of Ages,” set to the adagio of a Schubert piano trio, is a work for four dancers. Eight dancers — four men and four women — have learned it. At any single performance, an audience might see four of one sex, two men and two women, or a three-and-one configuration. The 16 possible combinations keep the dancers literally on their toes.

“If somebody’s parents are going to be in the audience, we try to put her in it, but otherwise we just rotate it,” Mr. Morris says.

In contrast to some of these sharp-edged works, “Somebody’s Coming to See Me Tonight” is set to the softly flowing music of Stephen Foster.

His annual appearance at George Mason is one of Mr. Morris’s longstanding commitments. “They have a wonderful arts program,” he says of the university, “and the students get free tickets to all the performances — that’s great.”

Mr. Morris, who will be 50 in the summer, says, “I have good friends, I have fun, but I’m older and tired-er, I go to bed earlier, that’s all,” but his schedule doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

In the next few months, his company will be on an extended 25th-anniversary tour, and he is making a work for the Boston Ballet to the music of Alexander Glazunov that premieres next month. He also has a three-week season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is curating a music series and creating a dance-opera to the music of Henry Purcell for the English National Opera in June.

WHAT: Mark Morris Dance Group

WHEN: Tonight at 8

WHERE: Center for the Arts, George Mason University, Fairfax

TICKETS: $22 to $44

PHONE: 703/218-6500

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