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Dancing Outside at Lincoln Center Choreographer Mark Dendy's latest work is a public affair

By EMERI FETZER

While Mark Dendy is rehearsing dancers in Lincoln Center's Hearst Plaza for his large-scale, site-specific dance work Ritual Cyclical he's interrupted by a passerby: "They're fantastic! Are they modern dancers? Once in a production of Pippin, they put me right in the middle of all these great jazz dancers and I was lost, but I compensated with my baritone voice! But you kids are really good."

This is not the only commentary from the plaza. While Dendy creates phrases with his performers on the concrete walls and in between trees, the city observes him. People stop and Instagram. Parents pause with kids. Some eat lunch while watching. It feels like a widespread collaboration between the space's random inhabitants and the deliberate ones.

This is precisely why Dendy has an affinity for site-specific choreography. Free public performance "brings the audience and performer on exactly the same footing, he says. "It takes the financial politics out of art, of who can afford the ticket. We're all on equal ground. I'm not setting myself up as more prestigious or godlike: I'm just among you dancing." As part of Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, Dendy will fill Hearst Plaza at 6:00 PM on July 24th and 25th with over 80 dancers in a modern movement ritual that symbolizes society's varied sects. Inspired by the space's divisions, textures, and levels, he says, "It's more interesting than any theatrical set could ever be, and I don't have to pay the lighting designer."

Dendy thought about the space strategically as well as symbolically. The choreography starts at the large reflecting pool in the middle of the plaza because as he explains, "most cultures begin with water." Then, different sections of society move to physically representative areas of the space. "Most of them will move on the flatland," he says. "The green hill is where the communicators are: priests, mystical cults, shamans, artists---all the people who separate themselves from society and comment on it." He points to the north wall of the Metropolitan Opera house, where white stone divides long windows, the perfect width for dancers to climb in. "That is Wall Street," he says. Gesturing to all corners of the public space he continues: "We have Brooklyn Hipsters over here, opera goers, the National Guard…"

The Kronos Quartet provides the ideal music pairing for such a political and mythic undertaking. Dendy mined their 40-year repertory, discovering the 12 selections that most spoke to Ritual Cyclical. "I knew how avant garde Kronos Quartet was, but I had no idea how political," he says. "I was taken aback by their international scope. Theirs is a world vision, not just a western one." From a 1917 Charles Ives war song overlayed with atonal strings to a Jimi Hendrix "Star Spangled Banner," from Esquivel's "Mini Skirt" to Sculthorpe and Phillip Glass, the work's musical landscape will be just as diverse and loaded as the setting.

It's fitting to do something large and historic. The occasion for Ritual Cyclical is multifold. This year marks not only Dendy's 30th anniversary of dancemaking, but also the 80th anniversary of the American Dance Festival and the 40th anniversary of the Kronos Quartet.

But it may be the first time Hearst Plaza has seen such an intricate flurry.

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Emeri Fetzer is the Online Managing Editor of DancePulp.com, a website about professional dance and dancers

Photo by Marisa for RockPaper