Creating genre-defying dance

Dendy (top) and his cast in Dystopian DIstractions!

Most choreographers try to avoid repeating themselves with each new piece, but Mark Dendy might have the market cornered when it comes to reinvention. Dendy, who formed his own company in 1983, has choreographed experimental dance theater works, Broadway shows, site-specific works with huge casts, operas and even ballets. For his newest piece, Dystopian Distractions!, which premiered in Santa Barbara in April—after a luxurious, monthlong residency with Dianne Vapnek’s DANCEworks—he borrowed from nearly every genre. “I had girls doing a Rockette kickline; I had whole structures that were improvised; I had a Graham parody, some show business parody, some postmodern things, video projection and a lot of props,” says Dendy. “I enjoy mixing it all. I’m definitely not a purist.” He enjoys varying his cast size and backdrop, too. Last summer, Dendy created Ritual Cyclical for the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival in New York, with an 80-member cast and the plaza of Lincoln Center as his set.

Dendy anchors himself in his commitment to teaching and sharing with young artists. “Whatever I’m working on at the time is what I’m teaching, in technique or improv or composition or repertory,” he says. “I always say that the revolution of modern dance was forged in the university system. It makes sense to keep that legacy going.” A regular on the Bates Dance Festival faculty, Dendy will teach composition and create a new work on festival participants this summer, July 19–August 10, in Lewiston, Maine. —Rachel Rizzuto

What makes Bates different “It’s a little more laid-back. Everyone is together: You eat in the same cafeteria, so the students get to be with the teachers a lot more. You’re talking about and sharing dance. Every time I go there, I put my emphasis on repertory and improvisation and composition.”

How he choreographs for big groups “You do it with assistance and lots of preparation. I have six company members, and each one is assigned a different section and a different group of dancers. I spend a lot of time researching the sites and spending time in the sites, and I go in with a lot of the material already made. It’s not like you can just go in and have your creative time there in front of 80 people, because you would lose them.”

His dance foundation “I went to Martha Graham, because I knew she was old, and I wanted to be around her before she died, to soak that in. I took away from Graham a certain amount of discipline and the core. Some of my work has a loose narrative to it, and hers certainly did. Theatricality is present. I get that from her, too.” DT

 

Training: BFA from University of North Carolina School of the Arts; studied at the Martha Graham School and the school of the Nikolais-Louis Foundation

Performance: The Martha Graham Ensemble and in the companies of Jane Comfort, Pooh Kaye and Ruby Shang

Choreography: Founded Mark Dendy Projects in 1983; choreographed the Broadway production of Taboo and the off-Broadway production of The Wild Party; created large-scale site-specific works for the American Dance Festival and Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival in 2013

Photo by David Bazemore, courtesy of the photographer

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