Marking is the dancer’s secret weapon. Think of it as going through the movements of the choreography without actually performing it. As the hands slide through the dance, the feet move along its space paths. A finger spinning in the air? It means a turn.
For dancers, tagging not only preserves energy, it is a memorization tool, connecting movement to the mind. We see him in class, in rehearsals, during a warm-up backstage. But where you usually don’t see it is in a performance. Until now.
This fall, artist and choreographer Madeline Hollander is staging this ritual and secret language of dance. For “Review,” which is part of the Performa biennial in October, Hollander worked with 25 New York dancers whose performances were cut short or canceled by the pandemic. They will find themselves on a stage to mark through the dances they were supposed to perform; from there, Hollander created a requiem of this era.
While the future remains uncertain, this tagging display – leaving behind personal traces of what was meant to be – looks both correct and poignant. Much of the dance schedule is still in motion, which rightly includes aspects of Hollander’s performance. It will be outside, like most Performa events, but exactly when and where is still in the air. She knows it: “Review” will be broadcast in circles on a stage below.
Some attendees are also on hold, who are still figuring out their schedules as performances resume. Confirmed dancers include Huiwang Zhang (he will score “Deep Blue Sea” by Bill T. Jones), Leah Ives (“Set and Reset” by Trisha Brown, among other works), Lauren Newman (“Night Journey” by Martha Graham) and Marc Crousillat, Satori Folkes-Stone and Alexa De Barr (“West Side Story”). Olivia Boisson, Megan LeCrone, Sara Mearns and Miriam Miller of the New York City Ballet participate, as well as Paul Lazar of the Big Dance Theater.
The roots of “Review” were planted in an art center in Hanover, Germany. In “Close Up”, Hollander made a mark on the Hanover Staatsoper ballet company through the movements of a new work. They wore street clothes and performed in the museum. This led her to wonder: would it be possible to preview a season of dance in New York with dancers marking upcoming works from start to finish? She thought of it, she said in a recent interview, as an “enigmatic, abstract and very exciting glimpse.”
Of course, the pandemic prevented that. “Review” – a response to the here and now – is structured in three acts. The first act features solos, the second act focuses more on the work of the corps de ballet – the unison choreography. “So you would see four dancers doing the exact same choreography by hand, which I found really articulate that this is real language,” Hollander said, “and not something that’s just a improvised thing. “
For her, the work is a choreographic ready-made. “I do not know the choreography, ”she said. “The only time I can tell if someone has done something wrong is when they are in the corps de ballet part and someone is doing a different hand movement than their neighbor or ‘it is not synchronized. “
Hollander, known for designing meticulous structural systems, may not have choreographed the movement, but she didn’t give up control: “I’m kind of stitching all of these worlds together in a way that I want, ”she said. “I hope their character and the feeling of this role is still imbued with that even though they score.”
The third act is a mix of solos and group repertoire before everyone else comes out. The arches are also individual; a Broadway arc is not the same as a Balanchine arc. And bowing is another source of inspiration for Hollander: in “52 Final Bows”, another requiem about this period of stolen endings, she created a video piece starring David Hallberg, the former director of the American Ballet Theater which took over the artistic direction of the Australian Ballet in January. In it, he performs a sequence of arcs – both from his roles and others, like Odette and Odile from “Swan Lake”.
It’s available to watch online at The Shed starting September 14, and it’s worth a look – not just because Hollander considers it a study for “Review.” It’s a reminder: we missed way too many arcs.