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The making of Mark Morris' 'L'Allegro'

April 30, 2011 |  9:00 am

MarkmEarly on in his career, choreographer Mark Morris spent three formative years as director of dance for the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brusssels, Belgium. Granted ample funding and a well-equipped building, he also confronted a great deal of criticism from the local dance establishment that questioned why an American choreographer resided at the helm of Belgium’s national opera house. In this environment, he wound up creating some of his best known and critically acclaimed work: “The Hard Nut,” “Dido and Aeneas” and “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.”

“I didn’t enjoy living in Belgium but I had a fabulous experience,” recalls the 54-year-old choreographer during a phone interview. “It was the first time I could do these gigantic, thrilling projects with my company.”

In particular, “L’Allegro,” which will be performed by the Mark Morris Dance Group next week at the Music Center with live music by L.A. Opera, has been widely lauded as one of Morris’ greatest works. Creating the dance back in 1988, however, definitely had its arduous moments.

“It was very difficult to make, both for me and my company,” says Morris, preferring not to elaborate further on that period of his life. “Anything else I say about that time in Brussels will then be the key for people trying to understand the piece and I don’t want that.”

June Omura, a veteran Mark Morris dancer, recalls that time in Brussels “as an amazing adventure. Mark knew the music so well that his choreography came out faster than most human beings could put up with,” she says. “If you lost your concentration for a second, you were called out. Looking back, that was one of the most intense and hardest rehearsal periods.”

For Omura, who will be dancing in the Music Center production, “L’Allegro” has turned out “to be the most rewarding show I’ve ever been in. The dance evokes these different states of mind and emotion. As a dancer, you’ve been through a lot by the time you come to the joyous finale.”

Ultimately, “L’Allegro” is about being a human with other humans,” says Maile Okamura, who joined Morris’ company in 2001. “And I love that this piece has stayed with us. The beauty of it is that you can age with it and experience it with different people who you dance with over the years.”

To read more about the Mark Morris Dance Group, click here.

--Susan Josephs

Photo: Choreographer Mark Morris is seen at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, NY. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times