With the barking fervor of the fanatical televangelists he loves to parody, Mark Dendy prepares his latest work for the opening of the Joyce Theater’s three-week “Altogether Different Festival” on January 10. Aided by choreographic oracle Phyllis Lamhut, Dendy orders his dancers to give him “heavy testicles and heavy ovaries” as they slink into a square formation to the slumming march beat of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”
The new dance, I’m Goin’ to my Room to be Cool Now, and I Don’t Want to be Disturbed, was inspired by Dendy’s recollection of his conflicted adolescent years, when he was waist-deep in surging hormones. His memories of primal rock’n’roll arousal are propelling Cool Now. Joni Mitchell, Aerosmith, Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, and Chaka Khan all figured in the fray between the teenage Dendy and his fundamentalist Christian mother.
“I remember we were driving down Monument Avenue—at the time my mother was so controlling my life; I was 13 or 14—and there were these longhaired kids in bell-bottoms on the street,” he says. “She spat out, ‘Don’t look at them!’ as if their energy was going to make me into one of them. And then that Chaka Khan song “Tell Me Something Good” came on—awoink, awoink, awoink, chackakuh—and they get to the chorus and they’re making this hard-breathing sexual noise, ‘Tell me, tell me, tell me,’ and it just sounds like sex. And my mother goes, ‘Turn that off! That’s filthy!’ ”
Dendy spins the fantasy filth into gold with a thumping homoerotic duet for two men, accompanied by solos, couplings, and ensemble numbers like “Walk on the Wild Side,” led by Steven Ochoa in a hot pink spandex minidress and knee-high pony-hair boots. Mom couldn’t have figured how wild Dendy would become when he and his high school theater pals, at parties, discovered 15-minute “turn-out-the-lights” sessions, perfect for a blow job or two. “I had my first rum and coke, my first joint, and my first penis all in the same night,” he claims proudly.
“This ain’t deep Dendy,” he admits, although when Nicole Berger plows into a torturous, bare-breasted solo to Janis Joplin pleading for a Mercedes-Benz, and Lawrence Keigwin spins out glorious phrasing to “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” you know the feelings, at least, come from his gut. “It’s meant to empower gay men and let them recognize their spirit and to embrace the straight people in the audience who have gay spirits—and for the ones who don’t, to lift them up with a gay spirit. It’s kinetic, sexual Dendy,” insists the choreographer, who took Lamhut’s advice to throw away a planned theatrical script and turn it into a “dance-y dance.” The seven performers passionately inhabit the songs, even though most were in diapers when the music was recorded.
Seven companies appear on the “Altogether Different” roster this year, including ChameckiLerner, the John Jasperse Company, and Compagnie Flak (the first Canadian troupe in the Festival) making their Joyce debuts. “We’ve been edging toward going outside New York in the past few years,” says Linda Shelton, executive director of the Joyce, adding that local companies have been chosen in the past so they could take advantage of seminars on fundraising and producing offered in conjunction with the festival.
Each troupe is allocated three performances spread over the festival’s 18-day run. Several veterans are returning this season: the Wally Cardona Quartet, Iréne Hultman and Friends, and Mark Dendy Dance & Theater. And some of the heavy-hitting groups—such as Armitage Gone! Dance (the souped-up troupe of near expatriate Karole Armitage), Jasperse, and Dendy—could arguably have filled their own weeks. “We’ve been able to keep the ticket price at $20, so the audience can really experiment,” says Shelton of her choreographic smorgasbord.
The memory of a song that Venezuelan-born José Navas’s father sang to him as a baby lent itself to the title of Compagnie Flak’s Perfume de Gardenias, a poetic and provocative work for six dancers that has its New York premiere January 11. The piece explores the flavors of desire and love exhibited by humans—in this case six naked human bodies. Navas chose to literally expose movement by having the dancers remove their clothes during the rehearsal process. “When we are onstage with no clothes on, there is a different way to move when you are just with your skin and bones and flesh,” he says. “We try to push that farther; that material is what we took to construct and structure the piece. It is my version of what heaven should be—if we go to heaven.”
Back on earth, the highly acclaimed team ChameckiLerner performs reality checks with its Rashomon-like Poor Reality on January 12. Four dancers, including company founders Rosane Chamecki and Andrea Lerner, in near identical dresses and turbans, range through a landscape of mirrored Plexiglas panels that leave open to question who is real and who is not. “It is about how we deal with the fact of understanding reality,” says Chamecki. “I look at you and I think you remind me of somebody I knew. I have an image of her and she has an image of who she thinks I see. And then there is the image that she has of herself and what she actually is.” Got that? Set to the music of Dusty Trails, Poor Reality glides hypnotically from a sequence in which the dancers assimilate each other’s gestures to a dramatic trajectory at the end of which the performers finally connect physically.
True to the spirit of the festival, each of the three companies opening next week wants audiences to take something different away. Says Navas of Perfume de Gardenias, “I want people to leave the theater with a different understanding of themselves as desired objects or as humans who have desires.” In Poor Reality, Lerner asks viewers to look “at the brutality we inflict upon ourselves, how it becomes painful to accept ourselves.” Dendy says of his work, “It’s just a piece that’s slick, that moves, that doesn’t sacrifice my homosexual conversion values.” With his characteristic diabolical grin, he adds, “There’s a list of all the boys I want to convert, Jerry Falwell, so you’d better try to find it before I get to the next one.”
“Altogether Different Festival 2001” includes the work of seven troupes in rotation over a three-week period. For complete schedule information, see the dance listings in next week’s Choices section, call 212-242-0800, or visit www.joyce.org.