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

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of the Academy for the Performing Arts

“Keeping agile" has taken on a whole new meaning for every studio owner and dance instructor since the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shuttered studio doors for safety's sake in March. Now is the time to show parents how you bring normalcy and positivity to their children's lives so you can retain tuition revenue until your doors reopen for business as usual.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Kerollis

I remember it like yesterday. Those days, when I could step to the front of my classroom and guide students through enchaînement—demonstrate the combination, offer tidbits of advice, cue my accompanist and walk around offering detailed corrections.

If you told me a month ago I would be forcibly holed up in my apartment as I led my first classes as a master teacher with Youth America Grand Prix, I might have looked at you like you had several heads. But when New York City began shutting down at breakneck speed, I knew I had to do something to protect my income. I dug deep into my toolbox and began developing online classes.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Photo courtesy of Academy for the Performing Arts

Between forced business closures and general fear of contracting the virus, some consumers have begun to ask for refunds of services that cannot be rendered or goods that cannot be delivered. In some cases, some of your customers may be submitting chargebacks on payments already made as a way to obtain their money back without having to contact you directly.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
This Bitter Earth. Photo by Sam Wootton, courtesy of NYCB

Create a Watch Party! Here are four free offerings from New York City's most celebrated arts organizations to share with your students and their families.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Misty Lown delivers a seminar in Austin. Photo courtesy of More Than Just Great Dancing

Business leader Misty Lown convened (remotely) more than 700 dance studio owners to create an action plan in response to COVID-19 studio closures. ICYMI, here are the takeaways:

  • Studios can deliver value to customers with online content.
  • Owners can preserve enrollment with caring communication.
  • The federal stimulus package is a strong short-term safety net.
Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Photo by Jason Hill, courtesy of Disenhof

When dancer Katherine Disenhof found out her company, NW Dance Project, would be shutting down indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic (on Friday the 13th, no less), she immediately went in search of ways to stay connected and in shape.

At that point, a few virtual class opportunities had emerged, so Disenhof decided to aggregate them on an Instagram account called Dancing Alone Together.

She launched the account that Monday, and by mid-week she'd also created a website. Now, just a few weeks later, Dancing Alone Together has 22K followers—and virtual classes are more than just a growing trend, but a phenomenon that has reshaped the dance world at an unprecedented speed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Getty Images

Dancers are resilient by nature. As our community responds to COVID-19, that spirit is being tested. Dance Teacher acknowledges the tremendous challenges you face for your teaching practice and for your schools as you bring your offerings online, and the resulting financial impact on your businesses.

Perhaps we can take hope from the knowledge of how we've managed adversity in the past. I'm thinking of the dance community in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I'm thinking of 9/11 and how that changed the world. I'm thinking of the courageous Jarrah Myles who kept her students safe when the Paradise wildfire destroyed their homes. I'm thinking of Jana Monson who rebuilt her studio after a devastating fire. I'm thinking of Gina Gibney who stepped in to save space for dance in New York City when the beloved Dance New Amsterdam closed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Kyle Froman
Update March 31, 2020: This article was first published in Dance Teacher, February 2009.

One of today's leading ballet masters, German-born Wilhelm Burmann exerts a magnetic attraction on the professional students he teaches five days a week at Steps on Broadway in New York City. “Taking Willie's class" has become a tradition for many top dancers of both New York–based companies and those simply passing through town.

Standing ramrod straight at age 69, Burmann embodies the authority and skills he acquired during an extensive global career. He was a corps member of the Pennsylvania Ballet and New York City Ballet, a Frankfurt Ballet principal dancer, Stuttgart and Geneva company principal and ballet master, and ballet master for The Washington Ballet and Le Ballet du Nord, among others. After he retired from dancing in 1977, Burmann took up guest teaching and is still in great demand at prestigious American and European companies and schools: This year he will teach in Florence and Milan, Italy.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Ahearn

Elizabeth Ahearn never imagined that she'd teach her first online ballet class in her kitchen. Adding to the surreality of the situation: Rather than give her corrections, her student, the director of distance learning at Goucher College, had tips for Ahearn: Turn the volume up, and move a little to the left.

Ahearn, chair of the dance department at Goucher, is among thousands of dance professors learning to teach online in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The internet may be exploding with resources for virtual classes, from top dancers teaching barre to free warm-ups courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Foundation, but in academia, teachers face many restraints. Copyright laws, federal privacy regulations, varying tech platforms and grading rubrics all make teaching dance online a challenge.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Talia Bailes leads a Ballet & Books class. Lindsay France, Courtesy Ballet & Books.

Talia Bailes never imagined that her ballet training and her interest in early learning would collide. But Bailes, a senior studying global and public health sciences at Cornell University, now runs a successful non-profit called Ballet & Books, which combines dancing with the important but sometimes laborious activity of learning to read. And she has a trip to South America to thank.

In 2015, before starting at Cornell, Bailes took a gap year and headed to Ecuador with the organization Global Citizen Year to teach English to more than 750 students. But Bailes, who grew up training at a dance school outside Cincinnati, Ohio, also spent time teaching them ballet and learning their indigenous dances. "The culture in Ecuador was much more rooted in dance and music rather than literacy," she recalls. Bailes was struck by the difference in education and the way that children were able to develop and grow socially through dance. "It left me thinking, what if dance could be truly integrated into the way that we approach education?"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Choreographer Molly Heller with musician Michael Wall. Photo by Duhaime Movement Project

Love electronic music? Calming notes of a piano? Smooth, rich trumpet? Want music in clear meters of 3, or in 7? This week is the ideal time to check out musician Michael Wall's abundant website soundformovement.com. I myself have enjoyed getting to experience his music over the past five years—whether to use in a teen class, older-movers class or for my own MFA thesis choreography.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

On Wednesday, March 18, I was supposed to return to Juilliard and teach Pilates after a two-week spring break. Instead, I rolled a mat onto my bedroom floor, logged in to Zoom and was greeted by a gallery of 50 small-screen images of young ambitious dancers, trying to make the best of a strange situation. As I began class, I applied our new catchphrase: "Please mute yourself," then asked students to use various hand gestures to let me know how they are coping and how much space they have for movement. I asked dancers to write one or two things they wanted to address in the sidebar, and then we began to move.

This is our new normal. In the midst of grave Covid-19 concerns, dance professors across the country faced university closures and requirements to relocate their courses to the virtual sphere. Online education poses very specific and substantial challenges to dance faculty, but they are finding ways to persist by learning new methods of communication, discovering untapped pedagogical tools, expanding their professional networks, developing helpful new resources and unearthing old ones.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.