Mark Morris Dance Group Goes Online For Their 40th Anniversary

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With the Mark Morris Dance Group’s fall season approaching, the company knew it would be significant: This year marks the modern dance troupe’s 40th anniversary and programming is expected to be almost entirely online.

“Of course, we had some really big plans involving covers and international tours,” said Nancy Umanoff, general manager. “Then we went digital several months ago. There was a bit more uncertainty, but a tremendous opportunity.

The Mark Morris Dance Group was not used to integrating technology into their work, due to the choreographer’s longstanding desire to create a symbiotic relationship between audience, performers and musicians. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit and stayed, the company quickly organized to create programming that was distinct, creative, and almost exclusively digital.

On May 28, the company released “Dance On! : An Evening With Mark Morris Dance Group,” which featured his first video dance performances, including “Lonely Waltz,” featuring a collaborative effort on the now ubiquitous Zoom platform. Umanoff says 4,400 people registered for the hour-long event, the largest audience ever for a premiere of a Mark Morris work. And over the summer, the company’s archival series, “Dance On! Video Vault” has gained popularity for videos of rarely played works.

Mark Morris, one of the world’s greatest choreographers, takes the dance on Zoom

Umanoff says the band understandably lamented the loss of live performances, but are excited about their upcoming stacked repertoire. The added digital components — video projections, digital archives, social-distance lessons, interactive Q&As with Morris — are “silver linings in all of this,” Umanoff says.

“I think everyone knows this is our life now,” she says. “So if you want and need, like so many people do, to keep the arts alive and have the moment of beauty that the arts can bring. . . this is how we can consume it right now.

Here are some highlights of the new season, until next spring (see the complete program on markmorrisdancegroup.org).

Dance on! An Evening with the Mark Morris Dance Group, Part 2

Although named after May’s performance, “Dance On!” Part 2″ is a stand-alone production marking the anniversary of the company’s 1980 debut. Umanoff says he expects four, possibly five, new dances created by Morris exclusively for video, with one piece based on his earlier work “Empire Garden.” Special appearances include cellist Yo-Yo Ma and a Q&A with Morris. Additionally, the digital archive will broadcast the company’s first performance on November 28, 1980 and will be available until December 6. (A “Dance On!” Part 3 will premiere on May 13.) Nov. 12 at 8 p.m.

MMDG Holiday Special: Home for Holidays

Normally, “The Hard Nut,” Morris’ take on “The Nutcracker,” would be played in Berkeley, Calif., or Seattle, and would include a lavish week of events for families and friends. Umanoff hopes that with a few tweaks, this year’s holiday lineup will be just as celebratory. Events include a day of family fun, which will include screenings of “Snow (Waltz of the Snowflakes)” and “Flowers (Waltz of the Flowers)”, as well as recipe swaps, songs and meet-and-greet dancers for student dancers. December 12-18.

Morris’ adaptation of Henry Purcell’s 1689 opera ‘Dido and Aeneas’ will have a week of its own this season. The 1995 film version of the dance opera, in which Morris plays two female roles, will be available to stream all week. There will also be a live Q&A with Morris and director, Barbara Willis Sweete. February 8-14.

Allegro, Penseroso and Moderato Week

One of Morris’ most instantly recognizable works was set to George Frideric Handel’s oratorio, premiered in 1988 and filmed at Madrid’s Teatro Real in 2014. Like ‘Dido and Aeneas’, the film will be available in streaming all week and will include a Q&A with Morris, interviews with dancers and collaborators, screening of the short film “The Allegro Movement Project” and classes for those who want to learn the legendary choreography. April 19-25.