But until just a couple of years ago, Mark Morris would not touch Mozart.
For an interview with journalist Judith Mackrell, given last fall and published in today's Guardian in advance of the London premiere of Mozart Dances (July 4-7 at the Barbican Centre), Morris talked about why he waited until he was almost 50 to work with the composer's music.
"Until I was about 20, I didn't really like [Mozart]," he told the paper, "it all sounded the same to me." And when he got past that stage, he still didn't want to use Mozart's music in his work: "It sounded too fragile and sophisticated for dancing. Plus, I was also seeing so many smug, shitty dances that other people had made to Mozart. They were all either powdered wigs, or postmodern comments on powdered wigs."
It was only when Peter Sellars approached Morris about commissioning a new dance piece for New Crowned Hope — a one-time event curated by Sellars and mounted by the city of Vienna for the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth last year — that the choreographer really studied the composer's work. And, as he told The Guardian, what he found blew him away. "Sometimes you think you're listening to a repeat, then you realize it's not even close. Maybe it's in a new key or harmonized a different way, but it's making me lose my mind — it's so deep, so varied. You think, 'Holy shit! How could this happen?'"
When the New Crowned Hope and Mostly Mozart commissions together provided enough funding to make a full-length work, Morris settled on the idea of collaborating with pianist Emanuel Ax: "I thought, 'Let's go all the way, let's have more Mozart piano music in one night than you would ever hear in a concert hall.'" The music they ultimately selected included two Piano Concertos, Nos. 11 and 27, and the Sonata in D major for two pianos, K. 448, which Ax plays with Yoko Nazaki.
Some of the ever-quotable Morris's choicest words to The Guardian were about working with Ax, who accompanied many of the studio rehearsals for Mozart Dances: "Manny is amazing. He can play the piano all day. And he looks as if he's not really doing anything at all. He plays as though he's just crumbling cheese onto a pizza. It's wild."
Mozart Dances, by the Mark Morris Dance Group, runs at the Barbican Centre in London July 4-7 and returns to the Mostly Mozart Festival at New York's Lincoln Center August 15-18.