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

Time Out New York: Does the cast total 80? 
Mark Dendy:
 I think I have 92. You almost always lose people. If it ends up being 83, I’m not going to make a big deal about it, but there are always some people that can’t handle concrete or sweat. Then you always have a couple of injuries with 80 people. So we’re starting with 92 and however close we get to 80 is how close. 

Time Out New York: That’s your uptown brain working. 
Mark Dendy:
 [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. 

Time Out New York: Are you using repetition and unison because that’s the most efficient way to work with so many people, or is that just something that you love? 
Mark Dendy:
 I love that. Seeing Laura Dean’s early work really influenced me. The simplicity of that spinning and those unison steps was kind of earth-shattering back then—all that minimalism. I was coming from a Graham background; Dean’s work was [about] postmodern rituals, and that stuff really affected me. And then there’s the whole other track of my work, which is the autobiographical, multigenre thing, like whatDream Analysis was. I’m making another one of those pieces next year. But ritual and repetition have always been important to me. And all that unison in the Graham work—the women in Night Journey, that one beautiful part in Acts of Light where they do the class material in gold. That was also a big influence. With Pooh Kaye, we were really doing choreographed chaos with release and improvisation, and there wasn’t so much unison at once. But I think Laura Dean had a profound influence on me. 

Time Out New York: What do you mean when you talk about rhythm? 
Mark Dendy:
 A rhythm that comes from the pelvis and the spine and a beat that’s in the body that can either be in three—one, two, three—or it can be in five or it can be in four, and it’s syncopated. I’m using one piece of Sculthorpe. And Glass has that ongoing, cyclical rhythm. The name of the piece is Ritual Cyclical, so everything’s in a cycle. I’m very much exploring the whole thing of the paradox—rather than seeing these different aesthetics as opposing aesthetics, I’m seeing them as paradoxical aesthetics that together make up this multifaceted whole for the 80th anniversary of ADF. I’ve never really been an aesthetic fascist. I appreciate Revelations, and I can appreciate Dance, meaning Laura Dean’s dance called Dance. I can go to anything, and if it’s good, I like it. I appreciate a good ballet. And I abhor a bad any of it. And we’re all subjective about what we like and don’t like. I had this conversation with [Elizabeth] Streb recently; we were on a panel, and there was a woman who was taking Indian dance out of its sexual roles and splitting up the male and female parts and putting them in pedestrian clothes, so all the makeup and the faces were gone, but the structures and the rhythm were very there. I said that for Indian dance, that is major. I was trying to fight for her to get some money, and I said, “She’s got an Islamic woman in a hijab in a dance, and those people hate each other over there, so she’s making a statement and that’s how minds get changed.” Elizabeth was like, “I’m not so sure that we’re so important that we can change things like that.” I was like, “Don’t we have to try? Don’t they have to think that you maybe could, and it’s done one person at a time and that art can do that? Or else, why do it?” Sometimes everybody comes together in one of these things, and we have a moment of, Oh, we all are together, we are the human race—people get inspired to do or to be better. 

Time Out New York: And you’re right—it is one person at a time. 
Mark Dendy:
 And you never know who you’re going to change, or who you’re going to get out of a rut, or who’s not going to go home and kill himself that night. 

Time Out New York: Or whose imagination you’re going spark, like that nine-year-old girl. 
Mark Dendy:
 Yeah. It’s true. And that means so much more than a paycheck or a $750 Bloomingdale’s sweater. Although those are nice, too. [Laughs]

Time Out New York: You spoke about how you wanted to create a postmodern ritual that connects us to our tribal and primal selves. Could you elaborate? 
Mark Dendy:
 I think we’re separated from the earth, from the biosphere, from the elements right now. We’re really not connected to the magnetic core that is gravity; we’re up there in buildings and spread out with technology. We’re disconnected from the planet, so anytime we connect back to that energy down into the ground or down into the water and pull it up, everybody gets some of it, and I really believe we become more psychically aware, like doing Body-Mind Centering work. In modern dance, your first partner is the floor. We go barefoot for eight hours a day. Regular people don’t do that unless they’re at the beach once in a great while. So it’s an important thing that modern dance has to bring to the table, and there is a movement to get people more connected to the biosphere, to be reminded of it and to do better by it. I really do think that’s starting to shift even as things are going out of control with corporations and pollution—there’s an equal amount of energy going in the right direction, and I just decided I want to be a part of that. I read a lot about it and I try to put it in my work. Hopefully people will get that connection of dancing with a tree and dancing on the ground and dancing in and next to water and way up on the grass, and they’ll see the juxtaposition of people in suits in between the concrete walls. I hope it’s going to make a statement. But the dancing will be abstract; it’s not going to be a hard-hitting thing. It’s going to be, Oh that’s how we are most of our day. Maybe I’ll go to the beach next weekend. [Laughs] On many levels, the structure is very simple, but choreographically it’s very complicated because there’s a lot of phrase work, a lot of solo work within the unison, and there’s a loose narrative of this youth who gets taken away and used for dark purposes. World War II was about something—it was about defeating real darkness, and this whole thing with the oil and corporations and going into places where there’s really nothing going on and tearing countries apart…. I ask myself all these questions, but I don’t have any answers. Once you topple those places, most of them become theocracies, and it’s worse for everybody involved. We’ve opened this Pandora’s box, and then we’re supposed to hide behind this patriotic thing and say it’s right? It’s insanity. And those are hard subjects to tackle as a choreographer without being didactic or clichéd or emotional or just totally missing it—thinking that having the emotion is enough to sustain the craft of it. I’m taking on some big issues and we’ll see how it goes. 

Time Out New York: Is Robert La Fosse going to be one of your guest dancers? 
Mark Dendy:
 No! His schedule wouldn’t let him. It’s breaking my heart. K.J. Holmes, Adam Weinert. Michelle Boulé. I take classes with K.J. sometimes. Last August, I took a workshop with her at the beach where we, like, devolved into the ocean and came back out into the sand and buried each other. Michelle was in that group. I was like, Whoa, I have missed doing this kind of stuff so much. I always have improvisers in these pieces and put them in special places, so I wanted them to be in it. Michelle just slays me. She’s just one of those incredible dancers. And K.J. is such a power and a force. I want to put them in the green and connect K.J. to the earth. I’m doing Michelle as the air—lightning. And I have Antonio Ramos, a beautiful dancer who goes all the way back to [Ballet] Hispanico. We share a lot in that we started in these hyper-traditional performative things and ended up not going that way. He will be on the green with them. He’ll be the guardian of that fence area—kind of a Hermes and a Dionysius, but a new version of that. Ryan Page, Leslie Cuyjet, Sean Donovan. There’s a downtown performer named Alice Klugherz. I’m going to have some indigent people, and hopefully you don’t know that they’re in the piece at all. They’re just indigent and in weird places. Anna Schon is going to be in it.

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