Mark Dendy takes it off
Choreographer Mark Dendy is provocative. When I saw his performance of Dream Analysis in 1999 at the Joyce Theatre in NYC, I was captivated. Dendy’s work was simultaneously theatrical, original, outrageous and electrifying. On the spot, Laurie Burnaby and I decided that we must bring his company to Santa Barbara. The NY Times called Dream Analysis a “phantasmagoric comic spectacle.” It was about “a young gay dancer and his psychotherapist, who is in drag, talking their way through a nightmare inhabited by two Martha Grahams, two Vaslav Nijinskys, Judy Garland, a demented Southern mother, an even nuttier aunt, the dancer himself, two sadistic dance teachers and characters from ballets Nijinsky created or performed in. Astonishingly, they are all played by a cast of six.” NY Times, Jennifer Dunning, August 29, 1998. Just my cup of tea!
Plans often shift in the presenting world however, and a few weeks before the festival, it was ultimately determined that Dream Analysis was not to be brought here. I believe that Mark had lost interest in it and we were concerned that it might be too edgy for our audiences, so we didn’t fight too hard for it. I was repeatedly told in the early years of the festival that Santa Barbara was conservative in its artistic tastes and that I’d better respect that or be prepared to pay the price. It all sounded pretty fuddy duddy to me as we approached the millenium and I was eager to challenge that assumption. But being new to the game, I was also somewhat wary of the warning. We decided to play it safe and said ok to a program of repertory.
Mark likes to challenge issues of gender and gay life in America. For one of the dances on the program the dancers were costumed in grass skirts only. Male and female. The lighting on stage was such that the topless woman dancer was not immediately apparent. There was a noticeable buzz then a weird quiet that swept through the audience when her nakedness became obvious. Happily, the audience loved the work and the program got a standing ovation. I felt as if I’d dodged a bullet. Smiles and congratulations all around. Not so fast. One of my original board members approached me with a decidedly grim look on her face. “I need to speak with you..ALONE,” she demanded. Suddenly I was back in junior high. “You have been told that Santa Barbara is a conservative town,” she said tartly. “I’m afraid, after this performance, you will never get another grant in this town.” Why is it that some individuals have such a unique talent in bringing others down?? I could hardly believe my ears. I was angry at the hypocrisy of such silly standards. I was more determined than ever to prove her wrong.
An unexpected legacy of the Dendy visit was that we got to meet his dancer Larry Keigwin. We were so impressed with Larry’s talent that we invited him back the next summer and then the summer after that! We encouraged him to follow his dream and become a choreographer in his own right. He’s done so brilliantly and will prove so as our next choreographer in residence March 28-April 24!
Photo by Mark Wakefield. Larry Keigwin and Mark Dendy, Dream Analysis