Mark Dendy: Fine & Dendy

By Ostlere, Hilary; Schatz, Howard | Dance Magazine, April 1998 | Go to article overview

Mark Dendy: Fine & Dendy


Ostlere, Hilary, Schatz, Howard, Dance Magazine


Postmodernist choreographer Mark Dendy is extending his reach back to Diaghilev and on to caricature.

There will be dancing in the aisles, on the stage, in the lobby, in the elevators--even in the restrooms--at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on April 10 and 11. Outside, people will be performing around the pillars and frolicking in the fountains. Everyone will be participating in Ritual, the new site-specific work for which choreographer and grand ringmaster Mark Dendy has recruited some sixty dancers from George Washington University and the University of Maryland at College Park, plus some professionals. "It involves Washington's entire dance community, as well as the entire center," says Dendy. The thirty-six-year-old postmodernist choreographer-actor-dancer usually performs his own material with his small company, Mark Dendy Dance & Theater.

Also on the Kennedy Center program are excerpts from Dendy's recent Dream Analysis, which was inspired by the life of Vaslav Nijinsky. When performed as a part of the Altogether Different series at New York City's Joyce Theater, with Dendy double cast as Nijinsky with Lawrence Keigwin, his long-time collaborator and dance inspiration, Dream Analysis convinced most people that Dendy was definitely the most altogether different spirit in the series.

Even the blase audiences at the Joyce were surprised at the antic goings-on in the ninety-minute dance-play, which invokes two Martha Grahams, two Nijinskys, a psychotherapist, a patient, and Judy Garland (personified by Scott Hess). Dendy says he experienced something like a personal catharsis working with psychiatrist Ronald L. Vereen to create the piece. He declares, "It left me spiritually drained. I felt helpless. Maybe I could never do anything again."

Such depletion did not last long. Today Dendy is fulfilling some of his more ambitious goals in a career that thrives on experimentation and versatility. "It's kind of like you never know what you're getting with me," he says. Consider the 1996 Bessie Schoenberg. Awards in New York City. A packed audience impatiently awaits the mysterious, unannounced mistress of ceremonies, who is unforgivably late. Finally she enters. It's Martha Graham!

But wait a minute. Graham died in 1991. That was Dendy up there, perfect in every inflection, intoning, "The dressing room is a very sacred place, where the magic of sacrifice begins." The audience roared. He had been doing such impersonations for years for friends and audiences who could appreciate his perfectly calibrated takeoffs. He says, "Richard Move [another Graham impersonator, who was also in Dream Analysis] and I have appeared together as Martha, including conducting her first post-mortem press conference." (He repeated his Bessie performance with slightly different material at Jacob's Pillow last summer.)

As a member of Graham's second company, he had the chance to study her up close, and would often amuse his fellow dancers in the nearby Silver Star Restaurant after class with impromptu impersonations. "I didn't want to show any disrespect, because I do honor her as an artist," he says. Life in the junior company was frustrating, however. "I felt I had gone to Graham for a certain experience," he says, "but the only thing I had gotten that was close to her was working for Pearl Lang and Yuriko. I realized that what I had gone there for was the Martha that was. I knew that even if I dyed my hair dark, which they wanted me to do, and got into the senior group, I'd probably end up holding a pole for years before I'd really dance anything. Anyway, I wanted to have my own company."

He then became a student of and danced for Poch Kaye, who, he says, "analyzed intricate movement and exploration of inner space." (He's currently reviving Swept Up, a piece she made on him, Ginger Gillespie, and some trash cans.) Dendy also studied with Ruby Shang, working on architectural, grand-scale, site-specific projects. …

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