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Flashback, 8-25: I Love You, I Love You, I Love You
Fact and Mystery
By Mark Morris
Copyright 1998 Mark Morris
(Editor's Note: The
following remarks, originally delivered to the Midwest Arts Conference
in Cleveland in September 1998, were first and exclusively published
by the Dance Insider, with permission from the Mark Morris Dance
Group, in December 1998.)
Thank you for inviting
me to speak with you today. This isn't something I usually do. It
may actually be the first time I've spoken with prepared remarks
since high school. Usually in public, I communicate in a more ambiguous,
open-ended and, I hope, musical fashion. But I wanted to talk to
you today about the fragile and important thing that we do, all
of us in this room. That important, difficult, primitive, dangerous,
and non-profit thing.
I'm speaking of the
fact and the mystery of live performance.
Fact and mystery are
the twin aspects of live performance which have fascinated and consumed
me since I was little, standing amazed on the street as the bass
drum of a parade passed by. The startling physical fact of the whomp
of the drum hitting me in my stomach, in my head, was a surprise,
a revelation. It was loud. But more than just loud, it was present,
next to me.
And it felt like I was
being told something important, something essential, which I didn't
It was the same thing
that Janet Baker was telling me as she sang one night many years
later at Carnegie Hall. Standing in recital, singing song after
song in ravishing voice, in languages I didn't understand, I knew
her only essential message could be translated as: I love you, I
love you, I love you.
The fact and mystery
of live performance.
As a child I would go
on Sundays to compline, the last evening service before bed, at
St. Mark's Episcopal in Seattle, the "music church." This was the
first time I heard counter-tenors, the first time I heard plain
chant, the first time I sat in the dark alone listening to music.
Sitting in the dark alone -- with others. That was the crucial thing:
with others; crowded, jammed up beside one another, and yet utterly
private. Alone with my own thoughts and feelings, and the music
we all shared in the air.
And I recognized an
inherent contradiction in that live performance: others felt alone,
too. There was a commonality in feeling alone; Bach felt alone.
But we were all alone together. And I became more myself, and I
felt less alone.
It's a lot of work to
put on a show. Everyone here knows that. And it's a lot of work
to go to a show: plans, baby-sitters, driving, parking. Sometimes
it rains. And, of course, it costs money.
It's taking more and
more work to go to a show. Because it's easier and easier to stay
The electronic pull
which keeps us isolated in our apartments and houses becomes greater
almost every day. Why work only to get stuck in a show you may not
like when there are 82 channels at home? Why chance a messy run-in
with a friend or colleague who you could easily and discreetly e-mail?
Why see a performer who you know couldn't possibly measure up to
the agreed-upon-by-experts, best-ever, historical recordings you've
amassed in your CD collection?
Because we need to.
Because of biology. Because we are beings who crave touch. Because
we are human animals who need that specific danger inherent in the
fact and the mystery of live performance: the danger of truth.
Video is a lie. The
compact disc is a lie. The Internet is a lie. Television is a lie.
I love them all. All are the past masquerading as the present. All
are dead, electronically feigning life. They fool us into thinking
that they are contemporaneous with our lives, that they are entertaining
us and connecting us, right now, all together.
But they're not. Electronic
media separate us, isolate us, make us live in the past. Strip the
electronic gloss from your Trinitron and you realize you're staring
at the equivalent of crumbling parchment.
Live performance is
uncomfortable. Whether sitting on a hard bench or the plushest,
velvet-covered cushion, being in the presence of a performing human
is somewhat uncomfortable.
It is focused confrontation,
not easy co-existence. You can't talk, have a snack, go to the bathroom,
or perform any of the myriad acts which make television such a soothing,
regressive experience. Immobilized, trapped in the darkness, oppressed
by the messiness of possibility, there is unease created by the
implicit realization that anything can happen. And it takes work.
But that work pays off.
The effort of engagement admits you to worlds of experience which
are unique, corporeal and true. Difficult but essential, in corporeality
is truth. Music live is radically different from music recorded.
And the difference is
this: Live music is music. A recording is a simulacrum, an aide
memoire, maybe a guide or learning tool. But music is in the flesh
and in the moment, and it joins together those who hear it in a
way that's both ancient and inexplicable.
together and feeling less alone. All art aspires to the condition
of music. And all art is the same, or at least all great art. I
get the same thrill from a Handel oratorio or a dance by Merce Cunningham.
Both show me the world, or, more precisely, the manifold worlds
within me and in which I live. Both of these artists are, as Allen
Ginsberg once said, "angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient
heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night."
I work in live theater.
I try to do that, too. I was in the fifth or sixth grade in Seattle
when I saw the Koleda Folk Ensemble. It was the first time I had
seen people singing and dancing at the same time, and I wanted to
be part of it. It was welcoming, everybody was invited, and I actually
felt like I could do it.
Later, I joined the
group and it changed my life. It set me on the path which has brought
me here, speaking to you.
And I'm here because
I want to tell you how important it is what you do, what we do.
It's hard. Conditions are worsening. Live performance is being pushed
farther and farther to the fringes of our national culture. At least
I get applause; running a theater these days is a pretty thankless
But it's necessary,
and it's vital that you know how necessary.
Each night that you
open your theaters is a miracle. Each night that the lights are
turned on, the tickets sold, the programs printed, is a miracle.
It is a miracle each night that your community is invited to gather
in your buildings and hear music or see theater or dance. And I
am deeply thankful for the miracle that I and other artists are
given the opportunity to perform and attempt to say what Janet Baker
told me that night long ago at Carnegie Hall: I love you, I love
you, I love you. Thank you.
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