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: God. Why? 
Mark Dendy:
 Because they wouldn’t give me an assistant. And they were like, “It’s just puppets,” and I’m like, “I don’t care—I have to have an assistant because I don’t work without somebody to go back and forth with.” That’s how I make work—with another voice. I’m a collaborator. Yeah, I turned down a lot of good stuff. And I did The Pirate Queen. [Laughs] Oh my God. Eleven ballads. It was bad. What are you going to do? I finally was like I’m not going to stay up here and hope for a hit.  

Time Out New York: You spoke about it a little, but how did you make that decision?
Mark Dendy:
 It was a nervous breakdown. It was, you’re in over your head doing something you hate doing and working for people you don’t like, and you’re miserable even though you’re making money. What is a $400 dinner if you’re miserable? What is going to the Hamptons on the weekends if you’re not happy? I just had to change everything. And it’s really hard, because you put all your eggs in this basket, and for your ego to say, This isn’t important anymore, I don’t care about this anymore, I just want to be happy—I want my life back. It is a really hard battle. To relinquish all that and go, I don’t care, I need help, and I’m going to go away. I’m going to change everything. I’m really going to meditate twice a day. I’m really going to feed homeless people on Sunday mornings so that I don’t complain about my stupid problems and so I know what a real problem is. I changed everything. It gives a rich, full life. Having a puppy is something I would have never done before—taking care of something completely or being there to help people. Counseling kids with problems. And that enriches the work because you meet an Iraqi vet and then all of a sudden you’re making a piece dealing with war. It’s a richer life. It’s richer than having a $750 Bloomingdale’s sweater. 

Time Out New York: What is your new character piece going to be about? 
Mark Dendy:
 I’m doing it at Abrons next year. It’s [TheLabyrinth. It’s Theseus from Athens, Georgia, and all of the different monsters in my life. [Laughs] One of the therapeutic tools I used was walking a labyrinth during my period of convalescence, of getting my shit back together. The labyrinth is walking these coils—they’re not trapdoors like in a maze. It’s a circuitous path that winds and there are different kinds, but they all end up in the middle, and they all lead out; there aren’t traps, and it’s said that they correspond to the coils in the intestines and the coils in the brain, that—physiologically—has an effect on you coming into yourself. Of course, in the story, the monster is in the middle. Psychologically, that’s like a shadow or our dark self, or our primitive self as opposed to our mind self and so when I was walking this labyrinth in these workshops, things just started coming up—ideas and abuse things that I didn’t even know what happened. I was remembering stuff. I was like, I think I’m going to use this as a theatrical construct, and I started writing about monsters. I have one character that is a prostitute-hooker–heroin addict–transgendered street woman, so I’m making her Ariadne. I think Penny Arcade is going to play Mother Earth if the schedule works out. So it’s all the monsters that you meet in the center of the labyrinth, and getting there. I have an old Southern grandmother who I’m playing who was a Jew whose family converted to Christianity and married her to an anti-Semitic Christian minister. So she’s a closeted Jew as a minister’s wife. It’s another example of someone who wasn’t being who they were, so it’s a parallel to this guy Theseus, who isn’t being who he is. I have this one thing where I just stand there to Ethel Merman’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and all I have to do is stand there and tears come rolling down my face because I think of the ten years that I spent doing it. [Laughs] I don’t know if it’s going to end up getting taken out of the piece because it’s indulgent, but it sure feels good. 

Time Out New York: How long have you been working on it?  
Mark Dendy:
 I’ve been writing it for two and a half years. I probably have seven hours of material. I’m trying to decide whether to do one of those four-or-five-hour performances, or to make it a 90-minute piece and save a lot of it for another piece. I’m torn. I don’t have to start on it until after Lincoln Center, but it’ll be at Abrons in March. I’m doing it in that cement space downstairs because it’s kind of like a Greek amphitheater and a fallout shelter at the same time. The climax happens during Hurricane Sandy in Bellevue Hospital during the evacuation. I saw that space a couple of years ago and thought, I want to do Labyrinth in here. I don’t care if it’s 60 people. I’m going to run it three weeks. And I get to play three ladies. I’m looking forward to that. 

Time Out New York: When did you stop doing Broadway work? 
Mark Dendy:
 I left that altogether by 2008. I stopped in 2006, kind of, and I kept doing it; by 2009, I was back doing site-specific stuff and working on my own thing again. 

Time Out New York: Is it hard to support yourself now? 
Mark Dendy:
 It’s not hard, but it’s not the same. You have to live on a budget. You have to decide what you’re going to buy at the grocery store. I feel so freed from the other thing that I would never say it’s hard; it’s challenging, but it’s kind of easier than the alternative. I enjoy my free time. I didn’t have time to read books or take walks or to do anything about life things. I was just working, working, working. 

Time Out New York: How is having a free performance a political act? 
Mark Dendy:
 Because the audience is across-the-board equal: Nobody has to be able to afford $100 or $60 or even $24.  

Time Out New York: Why are you spending money on costumes? 
Mark Dendy:
 [Sighs] Bobby Pearce, who did the costumes for Taboo, is donating his talent, but not his expenses. There are going to be eight operagoers who are waiting on their dates and eight Brooklyn hipsters; there are eight National Guards; there are the demigods and the water people. I’m working on an idea around cobalt blue for blue-collar workers that dance on the steps, because I want to pay tribute to the people that build New York and keep it running with athletic hard movement. Show some sweat. There are the hidden indigents. In my notes, I call them tsadik, which is a Yiddish word; it’s what the Hasidim call their beggars, and it means “an angel who is sent here to test your compassion.” I love thinking of homeless people like that. I just thought, Let’s do some costumes. Let’s put that ten years of theatricality to work in a good way. That’s what I’m going for. 
Mark Dendy Dance & Theater Projects is at Hearst Plaza (at Lincoln Center) July 24 and 25.

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