Mark Dendy creates a ritual for Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Mark Dendy talks about Ritual Cyclical, his new site-specific dance for Lincoln Center Out of Doors

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Time Out New York: You spoke about living vertically. What effect did working at Silo have on the piece or the process? 
Mark Dendy:
 Oh my God! I came out and meditated for an hour to start the day; one morning, the horses were in this pasture, and they started running around me in this big circle. It was just so powerful. I had some moments like that out there. Big sky. It freed me up spacewise. And the other thing about Silo is that you’re with your company; you’re cooking meals, eating together, waking up—you’re living together, so you’re talking about the piece all the time and ideas are shared for 24-hour periods, not for four hours. Then you go back to the stress of New York. One day we were at DANY [Studios]: Just the amount of energy that it takes to get to 38th Street, through the subway and the heat and the amount of drama that happens before you even get to the studio. It is so different than rolling out of bed, meditating and cooking gluten-free waffles and going to the studio and doing yoga and then working all day. [Laughs] Ideas flowed out there. I took Colette Krogol and Matt Reeves, who [portray] the couple in the water. They’re also the assistant choreographers on this. 

Time Out New York: In order to understand what you’re making now, it’s good to know what you’re reacting against. Could we go back a little bit? Tell me about your dance history: You started in traditional forms. 
Mark Dendy:
 I started traditionally. Graham, Nikolais. I went to North Carolina School of the Arts, which is a conservatory. I came to New York; I worked with Graham. I was 22. I got very disenchanted at Graham because of that Ronald Protas guy and all of that. 

Time Out New York: He’s such an asshole. 
Mark Dendy:
 It was insane. 

Time Out New York: Was Graham alive? 
Mark Dendy:
 She was alive. I was in the second company, and I was like, Am I going to stay and wait another year or two? No. I was coming downtown and working with Ruby Shang site-specifically and dancing for Pooh Kaye and already showing work my first year, so I just eased into downtown and P.S. 122 and Dixon Place. I started doing drag and deconstructing performance and mixing genres and acting in my work and creating characters. I was always interested in sexual politics, social politics and gender, and I was always interested in psychology, but at a deeper level. Not to do any disservice to Graham, because what she did in her time was deep, but I wanted to go deeper than that and not be representative about psychology, but to really delve into it and work with text in a different way. Then I did a lot of gesture work with Jane Comfort. When I got to New York and was at Graham, I realized, Oh this has already happened. I didn’t realize that at North Carolina School of the Arts. [Laughs] This is over and everything’s really happening down there, so I got my ass downtown. I had moved to midtown when I got here; I was going to be a Graham person. I was like, This is not what’s going on. 

Time Out New York: Isn’t that funny? 
Mark Dendy:
 It is funny. You’re from North Carolina. What do you do? But I came out of it with a mean Martha Graham impersonation. 

Time Out New York: How frequently was she around?
Mark Dendy:
 She taught 6pm class often. You never knew when she was going to show up. And some days she was on, and some days she was out of it; she’s a human being and she was in her late eighties and nineties. It was just a scene there. Probably the most meaningful part was studying with Yuriko, because she was the director of the second company and that was a real-deal thing. And dancing for Pearl Lang and her company. Pearl was very much alive. And then [companies] wanted me to start doing ballets. 

Time Out New York: How did you get into that? 
Mark Dendy:
 Pacific Northwest Ballet invited me out. Lila York was heading the new-choreographer scene out there for them, and they liked the first one that I made, so I went back and made four. I enjoyed the vocabulary and working in another idiom and learning it and from that I realized, Oh, I could do Broadway. I started doing that a little bit, and I did some commercials and a couple of films and then I was doing all that stuff. [Screams]  

Time Out New York: Why were you drawn to Broadway? 
Mark Dendy:
 I’m still trying to figure that out. Well, people came asking. They think they want what you have, but then you get there, and they really don’t. They want you to do what they want and what they have already.

Time Out New York: With maybe a little bit of you. 
Mark Dendy:
 With maybe a little bit of you, and you realize, oh my God, I’m just being a whore. The first one I did was Boy George/Taboo, and I really believed in that project. It was Leigh Bowery and Boy George and a transgender thing. It didn’t work out for a lot of reasons. And that’s another thing about it: It’s a crapshoot, and you spend two years of your life and you have no way of knowing how it’s going to come off. If it’s good, if it’s going to work or, if it’s a really good show, if people aren’t going to come to it….You can’t make Midwesterners buy tickets to a double drag-queen show when it’s the first one of its kind. I was thinking the other day, What if Kinky Boots was then and this was now? But you can’t think like that. The first one I did, I did because I believed in it and then I was up there, and people started asking for more. Most of what I did never made it to Broadway. Or I would turn down Wicked to do a workshop of Camille Claudel. [Laughs] I worked on that for a year and a half, believing in it, because I love the story, and I love the idea of bringing sculptures to life in dance. Wah, wah, wah. It didn’t make it. Three tryouts later…and I turned down Wicked because I thought the music sucked, and I didn’t like Joe Mantello. I would be so penthouse right now if I had done Wicked. They have six shows around the world. I didn’t go in for Rent because I didn’t like that the drag queen died. I didn’t think it really followed Bohème because Mimi lived in their version, and the drag queen died. I’m like, Why? In the opera, Mimi dies. [Laughs] I said no. I said no to Avenue Q.

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