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Live vs. Recorded Music in Dance – The Debate Continues
by Danielle Georgiou 25 Jun 2010

Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a dance lecturer at the University of Texas Arlington. She also serves as assistant director of  UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She looks back at the Mark Morrie Dance Group’s appearance in Dallas last weekend. Last week, I interviewed choreographer Mark Morris about his upcoming show at the Winspear Opera […]

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Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a dance lecturer at the University of Texas Arlington. She also serves as assistant director of  UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She looks back at the Mark Morrie Dance Group’s appearance in Dallas last weekend.

Last week, I interviewed choreographer Mark Morris about his upcoming show at the Winspear Opera House. Unlike other choreographers who like to explain the meaning of their works and prepare their audience for what they are about to see, Morris likes to leave it all up to interpretation, and, instead, concentrate on the music. For him, it’s all about the music – live music.

We were in for a treat Friday night, as his musical ensemble warmed up their instruments for an evening full of Beethoven, Ives and Schumann. This was the first time this dance season that I went to a show with live music, and the first one at the Winspear. The acoustics in the space are amazing and definitely suited the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG).

Dallas McMurray in Visitation  Photo: Sharen Bradford (The Dancing Image)

The dancers intimately knew that music, and it went beyond muscle memory and response. It felt more like they were one with the music, existing together in a symbiotic relationship. The quirky, exciting and all-Americana Empire Garden would not exist without the pop-cultural references to “Dixie,” “Rock of Ages,” and “My Old Kentucky Home” embedded in Charles Ives’ Trio for Violin, Violoncello, and Piano. Visitation wouldn’t be as mysterious and playful if it wasn’t set to Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 4 in C major. As the dialogue between the cello and the piano developed in complexity, so did the movement. And V, a Morris classic, could not soar without Robert Schumann’s allegro Quintet in E flat for Piano and Strings.

The reason for this seamless combination is Morris’s pedagogical theory of working exclusively with live music in both rehearsal and performance. That is how, he says, the dancers learn everything.

“When I decide on a piece of music, the first thing I do is play it for them. Then I work in the studio, bar by bar, page by page, with the pianist, so that the dancers learn the piece, as they are learning the music,” he told me last week. “They are inside the music. … From the very first second, the music is the same thing as the dance.”

Live music is an integral part of the MMDG performance experience, and even though it is more expensive and complicated, Morris has made it a priority. However, he is in a unique position to hire musicians – he has the funding. For other companies, it’s a little more difficult, and here in Dallas, it has been an ongoing debate about the lack of live music at ballet performances, specifically.

It’s a matter of coordinating schedules and money. It’s difficult to get 20 dancers’ schedules to match 10 musicians’ and tod find the money to pay all the performers.

“Empire Garden” Photo: Sharen Bradford

Then there’s the question of whether or not live music is necessary to complete the performance experience. Does it make a difference? Does it change the dancing? Many choreographers have no intention of ever using live music. Recorded music is easier to work with; you can press rewind at any time.

As a choreographer and dancer, I’ve worked with both, and there are pros and cons to each. There’s nothing like hearing fingers pounding out tempos on a piano, or strings sawing out melodies, or hearing a classic piece by Beethoven live. But then there’s something in controlling the musical element by pressing play. Yet, as Morris said, “if it is an urgent necessity…then you find a way to make it happen.” But, he does agree that it is difficult, and it doesn’t help that musicians make three times as much as dancers do.

Aside from the debate of live versus recorded music, there is no denying that the inclusion of it during the MMDG performance completes it. It adds an extra layer to the works and brings the audience into the performance. Last weekend was no exception. The dancing was fantastic, entertaining and inspiring. Morris created an environment that left us wanting more, and the live music might have had a little something to do with that.

Danielle’s review of the Mark Morris Dance Group’s performance at the Winspear Opera House ran in the Sunday edition of the Dallas Morning News.

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  • I dont think you can ever substitute live music for recorded but there is a need for it in performances. Live music creates a better atmosphere and enhances any live performance