Mark Morris Dance Group


Mark Morris, choreographer

Robert Bordo, scenic design

Christine Van Loon, costume design

James F. Ingalls, lighting design


ESSAY by Roger Downey | ESSAY by Dr. Sophia Preston


Dido and Aeneas is a dance adaptation of Henry Purcell’s 1689 opera of the same title, based on Virgil's famous tale of Aeneas' affair with the Queen of Carthage on his way to founding Rome. As Director of Dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium, where he worked with his company in residence, Mark Morris presented the opera with singers placed in the pit and the stage given over to the dancing. The unique combination of baroque vocal music and modern dance underscored Morris’ gift for storytelling and his remarkable ability to shape music and words into movements.


Morris cast himself in the dual role of Dido the Queen of Carthage and the evil Sorceress that plots her demise. The dual role he took on himself is one of his most acclaimed. "As he said at the time," biographer Joan Acocella wrote in 1993, "he wanted to expand the expressiveness of male dancers; he wanted to give them what women had. But, artistically, the more important fact was that the gender switch—plus the combining of the heroine and villainess roles—shot the show into a mythic territory, beyond realism and beyond conventional morals." Morris continued to perform the role, opposite Guillermo Resto as Aeneas, until 2000.


In the summer of 1995, a filmed version of Morris' production directed by Barbara Willis Sweete was produced by Rhombus Media. Sweete, who had previously worked with MMDG on the Emmy-award winning film, Inspired by Bach Suite #3: Falling Down Stairs, recreated the set on a sound stage in Toronto, Canada and filmed the work without the constraints of a proscenium stage, thus taking an adapted and controversial approach to Morris' vision. The film captured Mark Morris in his critically acclaimed role, brought the long famed dance sequences to motion picture and television audiences, and is now available on DVD.


At the turn of the century, when Mark Morris retired the role, the film was thought to be the only way to revisit the work. Many agreed that no other dancer could consume such a powerful undertaking and do the role, or the work, justice. Thus a dance work, being ephemeral, would be lost forever. Then in 2006 as part of the 25th anniversary of the Mark Morris Dance Group, the company did in fact return the piece to the repertory. For the 2006 production, all but two dancers were new to the work from the original 1989 cast. Dido and the Sorceress were cast as two separate roles, performed by Amber Star Merkens and Bradon McDonald respectively. Today, Dido and the Sorceress are again performed by one dancer.

"Gone is the Asian-theatre mystery of the opera, the idea that the Queen could be a man, an icon, a principle. She is now a pretty girl from Oregon, and that changes the show radically, restores it to realism. It is impossible not to regret this, but in doing it Morris saved “Dido.” The way to lose a dance—and thousands of dances have been lost thereby—is to stop performing it. The way to preserve it is to recast it and recoach it and put it back onstage." -Joan Acocella


Since 2008, Mark Morris has been conducting performances of Dido and Aeneas, first in Fairfax, Virginia, leading the MMDG Music Ensemble along with the George Mason University Singers. He has also led performances in Urbana, Illinois, with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and the University of Illinois Chamber Singers; in Boston, Massachusetts with the Orchestra and Chorus of Emmanuel Music; and in the company's Russian debut in Moscow with the MMDG Music Ensemble and Trinity Choir. The Russian premiere of MMDG included two sold-out performances of the danced opera at the Kolobov Novaya Opera Theatre of Moscow. The work was performed in 2011 at Cal Performances, Berkeley with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and in 2012 at the Rose Theater in New York City as part of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival with Morris conducting mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe singing the roles of Dido and Sorceress. The company most recently performed the work at the Tanglewood Music Center, Lenox, Massachusetts with the Tanglewood Music Fellows.


(above left: from the film, the final aria, 1995; above right: from Int. Festival of Arts & Ideas, 2009)

"I will never forget the final scene: Belinda, sitting on the bench and holding Dido’s hand. The queen has chosen her destiny and she knows that her end is near With the sublime sounds of her final lament ‘When I am laid in earth,’ she is moving in a slow motion, very softly, barely touching the ground as if it is not the earth she is walking on but the clouds, for she is already in heaven."--Oksana Khadarina (on Lament) for READ ENTIRE ARTICLE

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