My two favourite radio programmes: Desert Island Discs & Private Passions.
Two days ago, I stood entranced in front of the radio listening to Marlon James’ rolling, ironic, bass voice reflecting on his journey towards emancipation and liberation on the personal and writing fronts. Essential listening for anyone struggling with the pressure of rejection, especially writers. `Remember, 78 people can be wrong.’ He was full of energy- and hard won power – and joy.
Marlon James is a writer who won the Man Booker Prize in 2015 for A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel which centres on an attempt to assassinate Bob Marley. Marlon was the first Jamaican to win the Prize. He was born in Kingston in 1970 and grew up in suburbia. His mother worked as a detective, and his father was lawyer, leading to a family joke that his mum locked criminals up and his dad got them out. As a self-confessed geek, Marlon did not enjoy his time at school, and even pretended that he was not related to his older brother, a fellow pupil, because he thought his lack of cool would embarrass his sibling.
After studying English at the University of the West Indies, he worked in advertising as a copywriter. His first novel was rejected 78 times, and he thought he had destroyed every copy of it, until he met novelist Kaylie Jones at a writing workshop and she insisted on seeing it. She showed it to her publisher and his career was launched. The book, John Crow’s Devil, was published in 2005. His fourth novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first of a fantasy trilogy, was published earlier this year. Marlon lives in the United States, where he teaches Creative Writing at Macalester College in Minnesota
An hour later, I was laughing out loud listening to brilliant American choreographer Mark reveal his passion for music and its integral connection with dance and dance composition. He’s long captivated audiences at Sadler’s Wells and internationally with his exultant showmanship, both making pieces for his dance company and on himself. I remember his searing interpretation of Dido in his production of Dido and Aeneas oh, twenty years ago. The images rear up. He was a lavishly articulate performer. His work shines, crackles and sparkles across the stage.
Morris relished being interviewed by Michael Berkeley. His joy made me laugh out loud. A zestful collaboration of minds and passions: forward-looking, all-encompassing. And glorious music: from a fandango and Satie via Handel and Scarlatti.
Over the last 40 years, Mark Morris has established a reputation as the most musical of choreographers. Inspired by both baroque and twentieth-century music, he’s most famously choreographed Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” – he danced both Dido and the sorceress himself – and his witty version of The Nutcracker, “The Hard Nut”, has been so popular that it’s been staged every year for almost 30 years. Mark Morris has worked in opera too, directing and choreographing productions for the Metropolitan Opera, the English National Opera and The Royal Opera, among others. He tours extensively but home is the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, which runs outreach programmes into the local New York community. He’s received numerous awards, including the Leonard Bernstein Award for the Elevation of Music in Society.
In a humorous and revealing interview, Mark Morris looks back on his childhood in Seattle and his childhood passion for music and dance. It wasn’t very socially acceptable for a boy to become a dancer: “If you were in dance, you were a sissy. But I also was a sissy so what’s the problem?” He talks too about losing many friends to AIDS, and fearing that his own time was limited, a pressure that created a manic burst of creative energy.
Music choices include Germaine Tailleferre, a French composer from the twenties whom he believes is unjustly neglected; Scarlatti; Handel; Lou Harrison; and Erik Satie.