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DAY IN THE LIFE OF DANCE: Memories of Summer Dance in Photos -Mark Morris Dance Group and the Sculptures of Yayoi Kusama- Urban Sonnets and Garden Fantasies

DAY IN THE LIFE OF DANCE: Memories of Summer Dance in Photos -Mark Morris Dance Group and the Sculptures of Yayoi Kusama- Urban Sonnets and Garden Fantasies
Serena S.Y. Hsu

By Serena S.Y. Hsu
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Published on September 13, 2021
Brandon Randolph; Photo Serena S.Y. Hsu/ZumaPress

Poetry Reigns at Brooklyn Plaza and the New York Botanical Gardens


June 11 and 12, 2021

Songs, landscape architecture, nature,  and modern dance... parallel worlds in orbit.

This June weekend liberated city audiences from COVID’s virtual confinement.  One could physically attend an evening of company repertoire with Mark Morris Dance Group at the Plaza in Brooklyn, or take a stroll  through the New York Botanical Garden to catch  MMDG dancers perform in the Contemporary Dance Series.

"Words is danced to Mendelssohn's songs Without Words (1829-1845). These are melodies composed for a parlor or dining room gathering.  Mark decided to simply call the dance Words, because of the nature of the music in this setting." Brandon Randolph, Dancer


Mark Morris group of dancers, approximately 12 people, women and men, of different skin colors, are outdoors in a cement plaza, dancing with arms outstretched. They are wearing similar costumes dark shorts and light v-necked sleevless tops in shades of purple and orange
Mark Morris Dance Group performs Words. in the Brooklyn Plaza/  Music: Without Words by Felix Mendelssohn. 
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
Four dancers of various skin tones are in various stages of rising from fold out chairs.They are performing outside in the garden wearing pantsuits of yellow, aqua, olive, and black with masks to match. They wear sneakers.
Mark Morris Dance Group dancers perform Fugue in the New York Botanical Gardens  ( l to right) Christina Sahaida, Brandon Randolph, Mica Bernas, Nicole Sabella 
Music: Fugue in C Minor, K. 401 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press


a group of trees with branches and trunks decorated in red with white polka dots at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees, 2021 by Yayoi Kusama at the New York Botanical Garden
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

Inherent to Morris' choreography is the interpretation of music as a formative structure. Pre-COVID, the Mark Morris Dance Group always performed with their own orchestral ensemble or to the live accompaniment of their musical director, Colin Fowler. By making musical adaptations to original compositions, Mark Morris  reshapes the music to his own artistic vision.


a light tanned skinned dancer with black hair and a moustache looks out at his friend in the middle of  a movement where his arms are wrapped around himself.
Mark Morris Dance Group in Words (l-r): Matthew McLaughlin, Billy Smith.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden a huge sculpture of dancing tulips stands int he middle of a waterlily pond. The artist Yayio Kusama uses bright colors and dots to express herself in a whimsical fashion.

Hymn of Life – Tulips, 2007 by Yayoi Kusama.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"The garden (is) as a poem. Not simply a beautiful design to be appreciated by looking, but a living poem that can actually be read."  Marc Peter Keane, landscape architect


In the same way, the genius of Mr. Mark Morris is both quantum and qualitative – music theory designed to the poetry of dance. His choreography is penned to notations and transcribed from metered music.

beautiful blue and white hydrangeas nestled in green.
Hydrangea Quercifolia ( The Poetry of Nature) at the  New York Botanical Garden. 
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
about a dozen dancers of the Mark Morris Dance Group extend their arms on a high diagonal in front of them, almost seeming to be in an act of praise. one dancer looks the other way and her arms reach to the ground
Mark Morris Dance Group performs Words. 
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"All of my musical awareness began when I joined the company. Dancing through the music that (Morris translates) and re-imagines, allows both dancers and audiences  to participate and explore new ways of seeing a piece of music. " Laurel Lynch, Veteran dancer Mark Morris Dance Group


a female dancer with light colored skin wears a black pantsuit with white socks gloves and a bit of white in front of her chest. Her body is fully extended as she balances on one leg with her arms to her sides on high diagnals. She is very concentrated on the music. Her eyes are closed.
 Laurel Lynch performs Three Preludes in the Brooklyn Plaza Music by George Gershwin

Danced to music by the master American composer George Gershwin, Lynch's costume and footwork evoke Gershwin's era and his iconic  work,  An American in Paris (1928).  Her costume  is designed by Isaac Mizrahi, who  frequently collaborates with Morris.


"I love that Mark chooses such varied music, and that we get to embody different dynamic qualities, whether narrative or  abstract..."  Nicole Sabella, Dancer


a woman in a Greek folk cosutme of mainly white with a black vest and red trim, looks to her upward right corner her arms extended above her, one of her legs bent in the air as she balances on the other
 Nicole Sabella performs Greek to Me. Music: Studies on Ancient Greek Scales from Eleven Intrusions by Harry Partch.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"I studied folk dance, and Greek dancing was also a part of my childhood experience. But Greek to Me was my first time performing this specific style of regional dance for Mark. " Nicole Sabella


"Mark's original training was in Flamenco and Croatian. Folk traditions from other cultures are an important part of our company history."  Brandon Randolph


Mark Morris choreography is permeated by spontaneous patterns that move along the structured phrasing of the music.


Four dancers in the midst of movement. Their bodies are leaning to the right.the
MMDG dancers perform Words (l-r): Sarah Haarmann, Matthew McLaughlin, Brandon Randolph, Christina Sahaida.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
Four dancers two men and two women wearing muted color shorts and sleevles tops look as if they are conversing in a folk dance form their right arms extended into the air
MMDG dancers perform Words (l-r): Nicole Sabella, Matthew McLaughlin, Aaron Loux, Karlie Budge.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
Yayoi Kasoma's colorful dotted flower sculptures stand in water in a greenhouse surrounded by palms. It's an exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens.
My Soul Blooms Forever, 2019 by Yayoi Kusama.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"Like dabs and strokes of ink on paper, the elements of a garden create horizontal, vertical and diagonal motion in the design. " Marc Peter Keane in Japanese Garden Notes: A Visual Guide to Elements and Design


an explosion of pink roses and green buds
Rosa Pomponella at the New York Botanical Gardens
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

Polka dots are Kusama's thematic motif, a constant in her works. 

"A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life…” Yayio Kusama


Yayio Kasumas sun sculpture... a yellow dotted face with red rays extending out from it. the whimsical dotted sculpture stands in the middle of a pond surrounded by green grass and tall trees
Yayoi Kusama’s I Want to Fly to the Universe, 2020.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press


a man and woman dancer both in purple shorts and sleeveless tops stand on one leg tilting to the side with their free leg aiming high into the air
MMDG dancers Aaron Loux (l) and Lesley Garrison (r) perform Words.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press


"Polka-dots can't stay alone; like the communicative life of people, two or three polka-dots become movement... "  Yayoi Kusama


Yayio Kasuma's Sun Sculpture as described in a previous picture from two pespectives. It seems to be dancing
I Want to Fly to the Universe,  ( from two perspectives) 2020 by Yayoi Kusama
.Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
woman in orange sleevless top and purple shorts has her back to us she is on one leg arching her back. a man to her right in a sleevles lilac top and purple shorts repeats her shape but faces us.
Words danced by Lesley Garrison (l) and Aaron Loux (r).
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
a mass coleous leaves of various shades of purple melting into brown.
Coleus Lamiaceae Solenostemon at NYBG.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"The turning point of my journey as a Mark Morris dancer was when I was performing L’Allegro. It isn't about having a soloist role, but the entire experience of being able to dance a  masterpiece when every dancer becomes part of a greater whole. There are all these moments in the music where we share abeautiful unity together. " Aaron Lux


the 12 or so dancers all wearing shorts of various shades of purple and magenta , with sleevless tops of purple and magenta, facing us with their arms above them in a u-shape.
MMDG dancers perform Words with Aaron Loux at center.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"The framework circulates between 2, 4, 8, or 16 dancers, but within that there are moments where Mark has given us the freedom to make some choices . We can   decide to join the featured people doing the same movement or not."   Brandon Randolph


two male dancers appear to be having a movement conversation. One looking towards his partner with arms extened to his sides in a low diagonal the other,to his left looking down and jumping up with his arms crossed around his body
MMDG dancers Domingo Estrada, Jr. (l) and Billy Smith (r). perform Words. 
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"There are certain sections where you have structured improvised work that is timing-based depending upon the music, and relationship-based depending upon whom you're dancing with. There's a call-and-response." Mica Bernas, Dancer


Words also contains several Baroque dance elements.

two couples a woman and woman and woman and man hold hands as if dancing together. to their side one lone woman seems to dance with an invisible partner
MMDG dancers (l-r): Christina Sahaida, Sarah Haarmann, Karlie Budge, Brandon Cournay, Matthew McLaughlin. |
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

Linked arms are connecting points of Minuet and Allemande pairing during ballroom group dances.

three couples  ( men and women) hold hands and circle around one another in a modern square dance.
MMDG dancers (l-r): foreground (Karlie Budge, Noah Vinson); background (Sarah Haarmann, Brandon Cournay).
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

During a minuet group dance, pairs  circle each other within a larger circle. The brisk, lively speed depicted is more reminiscent of the Courante.

 "There's a (work) called Falling Down Stairs that is literally based on all of the court dances (Morris) covers – the Allemande, the Sarabande, the Courante, the (Chaconne), the Minuet. These court dances are integral to Mark’s choreography."  Brandon Randolph


One form of Sarabande emphasizes front-facing as a parallel display to the stage.


Three dancers in magenta or purple shorts and harmonizing colored sleevles tops are present . One man in the front tilting to the side balancing on one leg as a woman seems to support him and another man behind them replicatiing the first man's pose.
MMDG dancers (f-b) Noah Vinson, Karlie Budge, and Brandon Cournay.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
Two trios of dancers holding hands and exuberantly jumping

MMDG dancers (l-r): Billy Smith, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Matthew McLaughlin and Karlie Budge, Brandon Cournay, Noah Vinson |

Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press


Another form of Sarabande is based on demi-leaps.

a dance conversation where jumping dancers lean in to a circel

 MMDG dancers perform Words (l-r): Nicole Sabella, Matthew McLaughlin, Aaron Loux, Karlie Budge.

Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press


Visually,  Words by Morris seems to symbolize conversations --both organized and  improvisational--in which each speaker/dancer chooses  "what" of their inner thoughts to suppress  or divulge.

In the botanical garden,  nature is hidden and revealed by horticultural choreography.  Emerging buds, blooms, and seed heads create dots and circles of variegated color and textural points of interest.


Colorful Yellow Dahlias
Dahlia Coccinea cultivar at NYBG
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
a gorgeous purple flower
Papaver rhoeas cultivar at NYBG.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"I parted a row of zinnias and reached in to pluck the pumpkin from its vine. It immediately began speaking to me in a most animated manner… indescribably appealing and tender to the touch. ~ Yayoi Kusama.


a whimsical and elegant large pumpking sculpture colored with  shiny gold and pink tiles sits amdist echineca flowers and greens in New Yorks Botanical Garden

  Starry Pumpkin, 2015 by Yayoi Kusama

Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

The pieces Morris chose in relationship to New York Botanical Garden's Contemporary Dance Series reflect the garden’s intimate setting.

"I was very happy to be asked to contribute some of my work to these weekends (at the New York Botanical Garden).  The most interesting aspect to me is that the garden exists on its own. Miss Kusama brings it to life in a different way, and the addition of the dancers makes the whole thing a very interesting combination of elements."  Mark Morris, Choreographer


two dancers in pantsuits ... one a seaform green and one a pastel yellow kick one leg high in the air in the middle of a dance, they sport masks that match their costumes.
Words danced by Christina Sahaida (f) and Brandon Randolph (b).
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"Gardening is a method of nature study, a practice that asks the designer to look carefully at the world and understand things from the material’s point of view... " Marc Peter Keane, The Art of Setting Stones.


a beautiful yellow daisy like flower

Helianthus cultivar at NYBG.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

" We do a lot of study – we listen to the music we dance to on repeat. Sometimes we listen to it, looking for a certain thing, and then maybe the pianist or performance doesn't put that (section) in and you're like oh my gosh, where am I in this music.  We think about the choreography as text. We're able to take that text and slightly expand upon it, but we always have to... refer back to that original text, that idea. " Christina Sahaida, Dancer


four dancers in pastel and dark jumpsuits, and sneakers, wearing masks that match their different stages of sitting and rising from fold out chairs
MMDG dancers perform Fugue (l-r): Christina Sahaida, Brandon Randolph, Mica Bernas, Nicole Sabella.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

a black man in red tights with a pained expression on his face extends one are up into the sky and the other is bent, palm facing the side of his face and outstretched. Extreme emotion is displayed.

MMDG dancer ,Brandon Randolph performs Jealousy. Music: Jealousy! Infernal Pest – "Hercules, HWV 60" Act 2 by George Frideric Handel.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"... It all comes down to being curious," says Brandon Randolph. "What (Morris) always says is 'Be curious, listen and investigate the music.' For my solo (Jealousy) in particular it's only one section of a three-hour opera; but he told me, 'Listen to the entire opera.' It makes a difference because you get more thematic context of what you're dancing to even if (your role) is only five minutes."



an exquiste and vibrantly red iris that almost mirrors the picture of the man in red that preceded it
Photo 49: Iridaceae fulva cultivar at NYBG. 
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"I'm personally most partial towards Mark's Baroque choices of music. Our company specializes in these dances because there's something so familiar about Baroque music... Anyone can hear it and understand it; whereas people often shy away from certain (modernist) composers, because they seem so cerebral ." Brandon Randolph


the black skinned man in red tighgts now seems to acknoledge the earth. standing on one bent leg, huddled over it looking at the ground, while one arm reaches to the heavens and the other is bent with his palm caressing his face

MMDG dancer, Brandon Randolph, performs Jealousy, which depicts the operatic drama, Hercules, composed by George Frideric Handel.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"Mark gives us very functional notes or an image (to) portray, but rarely does he prescribe the meaning behind a piece, unless there's a libretto or a clearly narrative story behind it." Nicole Sabella


"If we are working with a narrative (opera) or a libretto, Mark choreographs to the text itself... the singing makes the piece easiest to work with. The (sung notes) really inform us how long we might perform a certain gesture based on how long it is being sun, or how long we have to move together connect. The singing and the way we dance... become one entity." Brandon Randolph

Just as Yayoi Kusama's sculptures shift and change from different points of view, so does the choreography of  Mark Morris.


Four dancers performing outside wearing masks..extend their arms and chest to the heavens

MMDG dancers perform Words (l-r): Nicole Sabella, Mica Bernas, Christina Sahaida, Brandon Randolph.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

I convert the energy of life into dots of the universe. And that energy, along with love, flies into the sky." 
Yayoi Kusama. I Want to Fly to the Universe, 2020.

this gourd with hair .. a huge white bodied, red haired gourd dotted with multitudes of polka dots mirrors the upward extension of the dancers in the previous picture

Flower Bud Opening to the Heavens, 2018 by Yayoi Kusama.
Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

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