"I May Sound Cunty, but I'm Doing It Fondly"
Mark Morris and Mikhail Baryshnikov at On the Boards
The news that Mark Morris would bring four dances, including one world premiere, to the 300-seat theater at On the Boards was big enough—Morris, who is originally from Seattle, typically brings his work to venues with thousands of seats and is an international titan who has left an indelible mark on contemporary dance. (If you ask people to close their eyes and imagine modern dance, they're probably imagining something Morris-y.)
The news that Mikhail Baryshnikov will perform in the world premiere is even bigger.
Morris (the shape-shifter and gender-bender with an extensive classical vocabulary) challenges human bodies, and his career has been a deep inquiry into what they can achieve. Baryshnikov (the fine-tuned master) has a body that has been developed to the far limits of human potential. No matter what you think of Morris—some adore him, some grumble—this will be a unique opportunity to watch living legends right in front of your nose. I had a few minutes to talk with Morris last week. The interview has been condensed.
Has the artistic relationship between New York (the center) and Seattle (the periphery) changed since you first moved away?
Hmm. I don't know how to answer that. Seattle's thing is like all middle-sized cities. The goal is to have a "world class"—that horrible term—ballet, symphony, etc. That has succeeded to a certain extent, but the gigantic amounts of tech money have made Seattle more powerful from a capitalist point of view, not necessarily culturally.
I was 19 years old when I moved to New York forever. I was quite resented by the dance community of Seattle. I don't know why. Maybe because I moved to New York and got famous and good. People resent excellence. In the small pond of Seattle, which is what it is, you at least have to check in on New York. But you don't have to go on a hajj to New York the way you used to.
"Homogenization" is a bad way to put it, "accessibility" is another—there are more good things everywhere. Most cities have one ballet company, one orchestra, one museum, and they become the experts and go unquestioned, because it's the Seattle Art Museum. The Kent Stowell legacy at Pacific Northwest Ballet is a real trauma that the company is still trying to get over—such bad choreography. And you can quote me on that. He and Francia [Russell, the founding artistic directors] are a reason there's a company at all, so there's an enormous credit for that, but they had a tight rule over the aesthetics of the company that was bad.
It's much more fun and exciting to work with people at a very, very high level of excellence. When I work with very fine musicians, which I do a lot, it's easier to work with people who aren't worrying about how good they are—and they're probably mediocre. I'm not trashing Seattle: I grew up there, but I'm not very nostalgic.
Everyone knows that people in Seattle are very proud of Seattle—and that's not a compliment. People get so upset when they say "isn't the floating bridge beautiful?" and you say "well, no." They think you're some kind of horrible monster. In New York, people say "fuck you" when they mean "have a nice day." In Seattle, it's the opposite. It's a strange thing. As far as me defending a place that wants to claim me as their hometown boy when it suits them—I'm not going to do that.
I may sound cunty, but I'm doing it fondly.
Why come back to On the Boards now?
Oh, because I'm a sucker. My first exposure in Seattle was at On the Boards. It was a fabulous place, part of this underground railroad of smaller performance venues. We never dance in theaters that small now—it's crazy, but we wanted to do something more chamber-sized. It's a little bit of memory lane. It's going to be a fabulous show.
This article has been updated since its original publication.