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This article originally appeared in the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times on March 5, 2006.

THE video monitor conjures the grainy image of a gangling youth with a mop of dark hair dancing with abandon in a bare studio. When he finishes, the small audience around the edge of the space shouts its approval. The dancer is Mark Morris at 24. The dance, a solo, is his “Dad’s Charts,” and it’s about to go live again after a quarter-century.

The Mark Morris Dance Group will celebrate its 25th anniversary by appearing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from Wednesday through March 25 in three programs of his major works. Equally compelling, among the many related events, are three hourlong programs of brief solos, duets and trios that Mr. Morris composed from 1980 to 2001. The chamber-scale performances will be given in the late afternoon on the three Saturdays of the engagement in the studio theater of the Mark Morris Dance Center, across the street from the Brooklyn Academy’s main stage in the Howard Gilman Opera House. These performances, with the older pieces recast for a rising generation of dancers, are so eagerly anticipated that they’ve been sold out for weeks.

The three cocktail-hour programs will encompass 15 works, all but one shown just once. The longest lasts 12 minutes, the shortest 5. As a group, these dances reveal the same characteristics as Mr. Morris’s more ambitious pieces: a profound musical response to an eclectic choice of scores, an equally wide-ranging imagination and intricate construction.

Still, as Mr. Morris was quick to point out in a recent interview, “Different pieces are good for different reasons.” The solo “Peccadillos,” danced originally by both Mikhail Baryshnikov with his White Oak Dance Project and Mr. Morris with his own group, starts out as a charming little joke and turns out to be a tragedy in miniature. An onstage accompanist sits at a toy piano as the dancer moves with the mechanical gaiety of a wind-up soldier. Gradually, the dancing grows shadowed and then almost manic as it conveys the inevitable breakdown of the gimcrack mechanism that provided such easy delight, along with the end of childhood innocence.

“Beautiful Day,” a duet to Baroque music, proposes lovers who might be dwellers on Saturn. Their movement is heavy and slow, their mood solemn. Their partnering is blunt, effortful and awkward. Even so, they achieve a sublimity ordinary Romeos and Juliets might envy.

“A Spell,” a trio danced to mid-17th-century songs by John Wilson, sums up the tradition of pastoral comedy. Rural lovers animated more by their loins than by their brains are egged on by a winged Cupid (originally danced with glee by Mr. Morris). Their antics are jolly — flirtation nicely seasoned with vulgarity — until the final passage. Then, as the pair finally lie down and couple, the joys of lust suddenly seem profound.

Why segregate the small pieces from the Opera House repertory? Most of these dances were geared to the modestly scaled performance space that an emerging choreographer could command. Longtime Morris fans based in New York recall their early sightings of the work at Dance Theater Workshop in Chelsea, where, before its renovation in 2002, the stage measured 36 by 24 feet and spectators were plunked down on some 100 folding chairs arranged precariously on wooden tiers.

Choreography on a grander scale came with the company’s engagements at the Opera House, beginning in 1986, and its three-year residency (1988 to 1991) in Brussels at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Belgium’s national opera house. Among the many luxuries Mr. Morris enjoyed as director of dance at La Monnaie was the opportunity to double the size of his troupe, making possible larger works like “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato,” the 1988 program-length work that is still accounted his masterpiece.

But according to Mr. Morris and many of his reviewers, the smaller works are in no way lesser ones and deserve the setting in which they will have their best effect. “They don’t need an opera house stage,” he said. “They’re little and gorgeous, and they need to be seen up close. They’d be dissipated in a huge house, sandwiched between the big pieces. One person onstage isn’t enough for an opera house, even if you’re Isadora Duncan.”

Now that so many of these pieces are back in his troupe’s active repertory, Mr. Morris plans to use them on tour, to give them further showings at the Mark Morris Dance Center, and — proof of his commitment — to keep composing new works on that scale.

Originally, Mr. Morris appeared in many of the small pieces himself. He was, after all, not just the company’s choreographer but also its leading dancer. A big, dramatically good-looking man, he is strong, fluid and sensuous, with a diva’s appetite for performing. He makes technically thorny maneuvers look entirely natural and infuses his movements with wit, joy, intense theatricality or just plain silliness, as the occasion requires. Most important, he’s a master of complex rhythms. As a dancer, he’s a hard act to follow.

In reassigning these pieces to a new generation, Mr. Morris has often chosen dancers entirely different from himself in physical type and, frequently, of the opposite sex. Maile Okamura, a tiny, fragile-looking woman, has been given “Dad’s Charts” because of her skill in improvisation, which parts of the piece require. Another small woman, June Omura, a longtime company member distinguished for her impassioned dancing, has been allotted “Jealousy,” the writhing-snake solo set to Handel’s celebrated chorus. A few roles are being cast to type. Daniel Leventhal, the most balletic member of the company, will take over the solo “Three Russian Preludes,” created in 1995 for Mr. Baryshnikov, with whom Mr. Morris worked closely in the first phase of the White Oak Project.

For the chamber concerts, Mr. Morris will appear only in the 2001 trio “From Old Seville,” a witty riff on the tango that incorporates some dark insights into romance. He won’t perform at all at the Opera House.

Does this mean he’s hanging up his dancing shoes? “Oh, I’m barely dancing at all these days,” Mr. Morris said. “And I don’t think I’m going to perform on tour much anymore. But I’m not retired from the stage. I’m sure of that. I’ll still be dancing in shows I plan to give in my own building. I like the scale there,” adding that it reminded him of Dance Theater Workshop.

To teach the choreography for dances not in the active repertory to the new interpreters, Mr. Morris used a combination of videotapes of earlier casts, the hallowed body-to-body method of having the originators or former performers help teach the roles to their successors, and the essential element of his own presence as explicator and coach. He strongly opposes formal dance notation, a technique considered by many to provide the most accurate recording of choreography.

“It doesn’t work at all,” he said, referring to Labanotation, the most widely used system. “It’s absolutely impossible to use. With my dances, for it to be specific enough, it would take a year to write down one move, and two years to decode it. By then I could have made up thousands of fabulous moves.”

The moves that constitute a given piece often add up to an unusually taxing assignment. “Some of these dances are physically very hard to do — tough, detailed and fatiguing,” Mr. Morris said. “Others, especially the ones I originally did myself, are hard on the mind because they’re so complicated structurally and conceptually. I always made up dances for myself that were over my head. Then I had to learn them very, very seriously in order to be able to perform them accurately. Believe me, they weren’t just loping around to music.”

Mr. Morris lavishes praise on his dancers’ resourcefulness in learning the pieces. “It was a big project,” he said, “and they did a lot of it on their own — watching the tapes and taking notes or whatever, then figuring things out in the studio. They’re smart and independent, and of course they know the language of my work. And they know how I want things danced — directly, honestly, no showing off, no faking.

“That’s one of the things that distinguishes my own performances and my company’s. And that’s what’s exciting.”

The company’s anniversary season, with its retrospective of small dances, coincides with Mr. Morris’s turning 50 this year. Asked how he feels about these landmark events, he said: “Well, turning 50 is just what happens after you turn 49. And I’m not a very nostalgic person. So I’m not going around saying, ‘I’m so happy to see these old dances again.’ They’re good, well-built pieces to fabulous music, and I’m proud of them. But I’m not sobbing with sentiment every minute.”

“Let me put it this way,” he added. “We’re alive, and we’re doing this work that we love.”

Copyright © 2006 by The New York Times Co. Reprinted with permission.

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