Not Just Going Through the Motions
Marking is a dancer’s secret weapon. Think of it as going through the motions of choreography without actually performing it. As the hands glide …
Marking is a dancer’s secret weapon. Think of it as going through the motions of choreography without actually performing it. As the hands glide through the dance, the feet move along its spatial pathways. A finger spinning in the air? That signifies a turn.
For dancers, marking doesn’t just preserve energy, it’s a memorization tool, connecting the movement to the mind. You see it in class, in rehearsals, during a backstage warm-up. But where you don’t usually see it is in a performance. Until now.
This fall, the artist and choreographer Madeline Hollander is bringing this ritualistic and secret language of dance to the stage. For “Review,” part of the Performa biennial in October, Hollander worked with 25 New York City dancers whose shows were cut short or canceled by the pandemic. They will meet on a stage to mark through dances they were meant to perform; from that, Hollander has created a requiem of this period in time.
While the future remains uncertain, this display of marking — leaving behind personal traces of what was meant to be — seems both correct and poignant. Much on the dance calendar is still in flux, which fittingly includes aspects of Hollander’s performance. It will be outdoors, like most Performa events, but exactly when and where is still up in the air. She does know this: “Review” will be shown in the round on a sunken stage.
Also pending are some participants who are still figuring out their schedules as performances resume. Confirmed dancers include Huiwang Zhang (he’ll mark Bill T. Jones’s “Deep Blue Sea”), Leah Ives (Trisha Brown’s “Set and Reset,” among other works), Lauren Newman (Martha Graham’s “Night Journey”) and Marc Crousillat, Satori Folkes-Stone and Alexa De Barr (“West Side Story”). Olivia Boisson, Megan LeCrone, Sara Mearns and Miriam Miller of New York City Ballet are taking part, along with Paul Lazar, from Big Dance Theater.
The roots of “Review” were planted at an art center in Hanover, Germany. In “Close Up,” Hollander had the ballet company at Staatsoper Hannover mark through the movements of a new work. They wore street clothes and performed in the museum. It made her wonder: Would it be possible to preview a New York City dance season with dancers marking through upcoming works from beginning to end? She thought of it, she said in a recent interview, as a “cryptic, abstracted, very exciting preview.”
Of course, the pandemic got in the way of that. “Review” — very much a response to the here and now — is structured in three acts. The first act features solos, the second act focuses more on corps de ballet work — unison choreography. “So you’d see four dancers all doing the exact same hand choreography, which I found really articulated that this is a real language,” Hollander said, “and not something that’s just an improvised thing.”
To her, the work is a choreographic ready-made. “I don’t know the choreography,” she said. “The only time I can ever tell if anyone did anything incorrectly is when they’re in the corps de ballet portion and someone is doing a different hand motion than their neighbor or it’s not synchronized.”
Hollander, known for designing meticulous structural systems, may not have choreographed the movement, but she hasn’t relinquished control: “I am kind of suturing all of these worlds together in a way that I want to,” she said. “I hope that their character and the feeling of that role is still imbued in that even if they’re marking.”
The third act is a mix of solos and group repertory before everyone exits. The bows are individual, too; a Broadway bow is not the same as a Balanchine bow. And bowing is another source of inspiration for Hollander: In “52 Final Bows,” another requiem on this time of stolen endings, she has created a video work featuring David Hallberg, the former American Ballet Theater principal who took over the artistic direction of the Australian Ballet in January. In it, he performs a sequence of bows — both from his roles as well as others, like Odette and Odile from “Swan Lake.”
It’s available to watch online at the Shed beginning Sept. 14 and it’s well worth a look — not just because Hollander regards it as a study for “Review.” It’s a reminder: We have missed far too many bows.