Living Dreams: My Color Ballet

Visitation, Mark Morris
The other night some friends came over for dinner and the conversation turned to creative projects that we had conceived but never realized.  One of my guests knew about my color ballet and encouraged me to share my vision. 

Mark Morris
Years ago someone gave me a book about Mark Morris.  I had his seen his dance troupe perform at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall several times.  Reading about the young choreographer with the piercing eyes, wild hair and mildly outrageous behaviors intrigued me.  Weirdly enough I was walking down the street in San Francisco a few days later and ran into him.  I told him that I loved his work and found his creativity inspiring.  He was warm, engaging, and perfectly open to talking with a complete stranger.  A seed was planted…

A very generous friend took me to the San Francisco Ballet for six years.  During this time, Michael Smuin was the Artistic Director.  We saw revivals, newly commissioned pieces and the premiere of The Beatles ballet.  The response to the Beatles premiere split the audience demographic down the middle.  While some attendees walked out, others gave the performance a standing ovation with cheers.

Beatles, Michael Smuin

Critics of the Smuin era said the dancers were sloppy but advocates felt the boundaries of conventional ballet programming were expanded.  Patrons were exposed to the classics, the forgotten and the new.  Francis Ford Coppola was brought in to do sets.  The art component of ballet seemed to open for me.  I thought why couldn’t a color specialist dive into this world where musicians, and filmmakers, were adding excitement to the form.

New York City Ballet Set, Santiago Calatrava + Peter Martins
A Color Ballet based on the major hues would be a complete sensory delight. Music would be incorporated to elicit the mood of color.  Sets would communicate the psychological associations humans have subconsciously to specific colors.  The dancers’ costumes would be one uniform color using shape, texture, and form to convey meaning. 

Issey Miyake Design

The red movement would pulse with dramatic music like a beating heart and the red costumes would be provocative as a bullfighter’s form fitting couture.  The blue movement music and choreography would be hypnotic like ocean waves and the blue costumes would billow like clouds floating effortlessly in the sky. 

Pacific, Mark Morris



The visual receptors and the biological response to color stimulus paired with the mood triggering power of music, interpretive movements and gestures of the human body would reinforce the ballet concept. Imagine how a stage filled with movements in red would move an audience in a different way than a stage filled with blue movements. 

Italian Concerto, Mark Morris

Although a Color Ballet would not require a traditional story line the performance would still have the power to convey an entire range of emotions to the audience.  One could compare this to the genre of expressionist painting verses the pictorial old masters.  In this case, color meets dance on a primal level.

Mark Morris Dance Troupe
It was now time to engage Mark Morris.  I sent several color themed gifts to his studio in Brooklyn.  The staff referred to me as “The Color Ballet Lady.”  One color gift involved a Todd Oldham French grosgrain ribbon handbag from the South Beach Florida boutique, filled with green paint chips, green gloves, green feathers, and green rubber frogs. Another gift included a royal blue push broom with a matching over sized dustpan.  Each color quest was wrapped in the chosen gift color. He must have thought I was crazy.  

Color Gifts for Mark

Eventually, Mark agreed to meet me for a drink to discuss my idea. I left San Francisco and during my journey South, I visualized my color filled creation and saw myself taking bows at the triumphant finale with Mark.
Mark Morris + Jill Pilaroscia

We met in San Luis Obispo where his troop was performing at the time.  In my bag, I brought velvet squares in the major hues for cocktail napkins, and a careful selection of music.  The pale pink interior of the hotel bar spoke only of the 1980’s.  We sat at a high round top table on stools that immediately dwarfed my stature. I was carefully attired in black to not draw attention to myself.  I ceremoniously placed homemade polychromatic velvet squares on the table top as textural cocktail napkins.  I was setting the stage for the brilliant color ballet.
He was gracious and complimented my originality. He listened patiently as I discussed my big idea – each color would have music, costumes and sets that reinforced the inherent associative characteristics of the color.  We would contrast the colors in a way to create surprise and tension.  I referenced the work of Carl Jung on the collective unconscious, the origins of associative color and human evolution, and the metaphysical relationship of sound, specific notes and color. I also contrasted the concept to that of Balanchine’s Jewels ballet, spoke of Scriabin’s Color Music concerts in the late 1800’s – all this time stressing the originality of the Color Ballet idea. 

Jewels, George Balanchine

Mark responded with a clear statement, “I work from music not from ideas!” Having seen an abundance of Mark’s works I should have recognized his style. He finished his drink and invited me to his performance that evening. With a heavy heart, I drove back to San Francisco. My year long effort came to an end with Mark’s declaration that music rules his creativity.  Mine however, is ruled by color. We touched but we didn’t dance.

It was with mixed emotion that I watched his San Francisco Ballet production, The Sandpaper Ballet. Isaac Mizrahi created the bright green costumes, which vibrated against an electric red set.  Seeing the inclusion of powerful colors made me think that I had possibly influenced Mark’s appreciation for color on some level.
Sandpaper, Mark Morris
Sitting high in the hall closet is a red cardboard banker box full of notes, costume inspirations, color visuals for sets, and reviews of successful new ballet productions worldwide. The idea has not died, and my passion for color still lives strong. One day I will revisit the Color Ballet with a grand finale showcasing the dance of the seven hues.  
Photo Credits
Visitation Ballet: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/oct/30/mark-morris-programme-2-review
Morris Portrait: http://www.jessefrohman.com/pages/portport_2.html
Beatles Ballet: http://www.cb-pr.com/press/smuinseason.html
NYCB Set: Architectural Record, September 2010, Photo by Paul Kolnik
Miyake Design: http://arttattler.com/designfuturebeauty.html
Pacific Ballet: http://markmorrisdancegroup.org/resources/photo_gallery/
Italian Concerto Ballet: http://blog.chron.com/peep/2010/01/mark-morris-lou-voodoo/
Mark Morris Dance Troupe: http://www.cornish.edu/summer/dance/courses/mark_morris_dance_group_pre-professional_dance_intensives/
Color Gifts: Jill Pilaroscia
Morris + Pilaroscia: Donald Jones Photography, 1999
Jewels Ballet: http://artsplace.blogspot.com/2009/03/jewels-at-boston-ballet.html
Sandpaper Ballet: http://articles.sfgate.com/1999-04-29/entertainment/17684581_1_joanna-berman-dancers-mark-morris

One thought on “Living Dreams: My Color Ballet

  1. Wow, what an amazing story. I also love Mark Morris and have seen his company several times here in Edinburgh. I was also lucky enough to see Rock the Ballet last week as they are in Edinburgh for the Festival. I know they are rather controversial but I have rarely seen such beautiful dancers and I go to ballet a lot. Very nice blog, Im hooked.

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