Mark Dendy’s ‘Ritual Cyclical’ Unfolds at Lincoln Center

July 22nd, 2013

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

Colette Krogol and Matt Reeves in “Ritual Cyclical,” choreographed by Mark Dendy with music by the Kronos Quartet. The work will have its premiere on Wednesday at Lincoln Center. More Photos »

Any summer weeknight, Hearst Plaza at Lincoln Center becomes a cultural crossroads. Teenage ballet students lounge on the sloping Illumination Lawn. New York Philharmonic patrons hurry past the reflecting pool. Theatergoers spend intermissions in the wire chairs of the lush tree grove.

But if the plaza looks a bit more crowded than usual this Wednesday and Thursday nights, it will be for good reason. Eighty dancers will prowl the lawn, climb a corrugated wall of the Metropolitan Opera House and splash in the pool, in the choreographer Mark Dendy’s “Ritual Cyclical,” a site-specific new work presented by Lincoln Center Out of Doors and the American Dance Festival.

“I’m probably the only person who’s choreographed for the stage of the Met and the side windows outdoors as well,” Mr. Dendy said recently with a laugh. A 30-year veteran of the New York modern-dance scene, Mr. Dendy has worked on projects from Julie Taymor’s Met production of “The Magic Flute” to downtown postmodern dance-theater subverting traditional gender roles.

In recent years, Mr. Dendy’s focus has turned to large-scale works, with a cast size to match. When flash mobs — seemingly random, but actually choreographed, mass public performances — became popular, “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, people are in need of this,’ ” Mr. Dendy said over breakfast. “We’ve discarded a lot of our rituals as a culture. We don’t have this kind of meaningful thing anymore, where everyone comes down to the watering hole in the morning and dances for the strength and courage to keep on going. We’re really disconnected from the earth, and that’s really true in this city.”

He has staged pieces with 30 to 60 dancers at places like the Kennedy Center in Washington and Golden Belt, a former textile mill in Durham, N.C. (The 80-member cast of “Ritual” pays tribute to the 80th anniversary of the American Dance Festival, with which Mr. Dendy has a longstanding relationship.) But it was his sense of disconnection among New York’s throngs that particularly inspired “Ritual.” “There’s not a lot of personally owned space here,” Mr. Dendy said. He said he wanted to reclaim public space “as hallowed ground.”

Working with Ms. Taymor and, in 2000, with the Rockettes (he choreographed “Carnivale,” which was never fully realized because of the Sept. 11 attacks), Mr. Dendy learned the logistics of coordinating sizable groups of dancers. At the Met, “you get the chorus for an hour and a half to do their part for a given big scene,” he recalled. “You learn to work really simply — something everyone can do, and then they kind of help each other getting it.”

The Rockettes taught Mr. Dendy “a lot about the tricks of unison, about watching each other to stay in patterns,” he said.

Mr. Dendy “has a real sense of spectacle,” said Bill Bragin, director of public programming for Lincoln Center and a longtime follower of Mr. Dendy’s work. “The fact that he took a break from the downtown dance world and was able to work on these grand scales, it heightened his ability to work in a really large-scale, visionary manner.”

It also put Mr. Dendy at ease teaching dancers of all abilities in a complex environment. For “Ritual,” Mr. Dendy cast a core group of dancers who have performed with him before, as well as volunteers including members of the Steps, Repertory Ensemble and the Ailey School.

“Having gone to conservatory and performed on a proscenium stage, I guess I feel more human, being on the same level with everyone else,” said Michael Figueroa, 21, a Boston Conservatory student who has performed with Mr. Dendy and will be in “Ritual.” “It’s like the dance sells itself. It’s strictly about the movement and the experience that’s shared.”

In “Ritual,” Mr. Dendy emphasizes naturalistic movement, though athletic turns and lyrical partnering find their way into the choreography as well. The abstract narrative starts in the reflecting pool with a couple torn apart when the man is taken away by dancers depicting National Guard soldiers. The cast, depicting city types like Wall Street stock traders and hipsters, disperse throughout the plaza. Audience members can follow the rest of the piece “like a treasure hunt,” Mr. Dendy said.

“Ritual Cyclical” will be performed at 6 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday at Hearst Plaza, at 64th Street and Columbus Avenue, Lincoln Center;

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