2012 Laureate Prize Winner
2012 Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate in the Arts
Mark Morris has achieved a reputation as one of the world's leading modern dance choreographers. Dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov, with whom Morris founded the White Oak Dance Project in 1990, has called Morris "one of the great choreographers of our time" and credits Morris for giving him wonderful pieces to dance, and inspiring him to go on with his career. Since founding the Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980, Morris has created numerous important works with a remarkable ability to combine graceful movement, beautiful music and notable wit.
Born in Seattle, Washington in 1956, Morris studied dance with Verla Flowers and Perry Brunson. Morris' early interests in a range of dance and music styles, including folk, classical and ballet, are reflected in his work today. The early years of his career included performances with several modern dance companies, including the Koleda Balkan Dance Ensemble, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Hannah Kahn Dance Company and the Eliot Feld Ballet.
Morris founded the Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980 and he has since created over 120 works for the company. The Dance Group performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for 15 seasons starting in 1984, had its debut at the Kennedy Center in 1985 and made its first national television program for the PBS series "Dance in America" in 1986. From 1988-1991, Morris was the Director of Dance at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaise in Brussels, the national opera house of Belgium. During his tenure, Morris created 12 pieces, among them L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, which many consider his masterpiece, and The Hard Nut, an irreverent adaption of The Nutcracker. Today the Mark Morris Dance Group, with its expansive national and international travel schedule, is seen as one of the world's leading dance companies.
Morris is also highly sought after as a ballet choreographer and his commissions are numerous. Morris has created seven works for the San Francisco Ballet including the first American production of Delibes Sylvia, three works for the American Ballet Theater, and several for the Joffrey Ballet and the Boston ballet, among others. In 2009, the San Francisco Ballet celebrated 15 years of collaborations with Mark Morris with the first All-Morris program, performing A Garden (2001), Joyride (2008), and Sandpiper Ballet (1999). Morris' extensive work in opera includes directing and producing productions for the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the Royal Opera and the English National Opera.
Morris has also collaborated with artists as wide-ranging as Yo-Yo Ma in the Emmy Award-winning film Falling Down Stairs (1997), percussionist and composer Zakir Hussain, Mr. Ma and jazz pianist Ethan Iverson in Kolam (2002), pianists Emanuel Ax, Garrick Ohlsson and Yoko Nozaki in Mozart Dances (2006) and designer Isaac Mizhari in Orfeo de Euridice (2007). Such collaborations demonstrate the breadth of his work as a creative artist.
Since 1980 Morris has captivated critics and followers alike. He passionately believes that live music brings a different measure to the art of dance, resulting in a spirited collaboration between the dancers and the musicians. One of the characteristics that sets him apart from other choreographers is his devotion to setting his dances to live accompaniment.
Morris' creative vision has earned him awards and honors. Honorary degrees have been bestowed upon him by The Julliard School, Pratt Institute, The Boston Conservatory, Bard College, George Mason University and Bowdoin College. Other awards include a MacArthur Fellowship, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Mayor's Award for Arts and Culture, Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance, WQXR Gramophone Special Recognition Award , Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award for the Elevation of Music in Society and Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award.