The newest episode in PBS' "Dance in America" series (tonight at 8 on Channel 24; at 9 on Channels 28 and 15; Saturday at 8 p.m. on Channel 50) begins with the obvious question: "Who is Mark Morris?" It then offers an hour of performance and interview segments by way of an answer.
When taped for this Danish-American project, Morris was only 29--the youngest choreographer to be given an entire "Dance in America" program. However, his extensive experience in ballet, modern and folk dancing is apparent in both the technical surety and conceptual eclecticism of his work.
Common to the seven short pieces danced by Morris' fine modern dance company: an unpredictable, yet persuasive musicality based on a powerful rhythmic pulse; strong gestural emphases that are usually drawn from the texts of vocal scores that he uses; a theatricality so bold that his works and performances can look florid in the intimate (and disorienting) closeups that are favored by TV director Thomas Grimm.
All the dances gain enormously from new scenery by painter Robert Bordo and designer Ves Harper.
The trio "Songs That Tell a Story (Robe of White)" and the group piece "Dogtown" both exploit a rough-hewn, colloquial pop style appropriate to their accompaniments, while the intriguing soloist-corps contrasts in "Prelude" and the intricate mirror-movement in the duet "Love, You Have Won" reveal a sophisticated development of ambitious structural gambits.