Dance preview: Mark Morris Dance Group finds its magic in the music

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Over the past 30-plus years, the Mark Morris Dance Group has created a repertory so rich and renowned that it speaks for itself.

In fact, when artistic director Mark Morris was asked recently to describe his work and his Brooklyn-based troupe of 20 dancers, he said people should know their story after all these years and what they don't know they can look up.

If you check the Internet, you'll come across accounts of international tours, numerous awards and accolades that range from performing in 1986 for the national PBS television program "Dance in America" to serving as the national dance company of Belgium in 1988.

Mark Morris Dance Group

When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Byham Theater, Downtown.

Tickets: $19 to $48 at 412-456-6666 or

Throughout, the source from which it all has stemmed is the same: music.

"That's the point of my work," Mr. Morris said. "That's sort of it."

On Saturday, he'll bring his company and a group of eight musicians to Byham Theater, Downtown. The performance will close the Pittsburgh Dance Council's 2012-13 season.

Local dance lovers might be familiar with Mr. Morris' work from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's recent mixed repertory program at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, where dancers staged his "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes" to live piano music.

Live music is a staple of every performance. Mr. Morris looks for scores that are "good enough to bear many, many repeat listens" and can be performed on the road. (Other choreographers often start with a concept or some steps and then weave in the music.)

To keep his work fresh and diverse, he selects a mix of songs. In Pittsburgh, audiences will hear string quartets by Heitor Villa-Lobos in "Petrichor" (2010), a title that refers to the scent that rain leaves behind. "The Muir" (2010) includes Irish and Scottish folk songs arranged by Beethoven. "Festival Dance," the most recent dance on the lineup, is set to Johann Nepomuk Hummel's Piano Trio No. 5 in E Major, Op. 83.

What audience members take away from the pieces is up to them, Mr. Morris said.

"All I want people to do is to come and watch and listen. There's no other responsibility, and we'll take care of everything else."

But he does hope his company is a glimmer of serious, thoughtful art in a society that he feels lacks it.

If the company achieves this, "then I've done a wonderful, wonderful gift for the country," he said.


Sara Bauknecht: or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.


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