Ryan McNamara Reveals Behind-the-Scenes Details from His Performa Hit “ME3M Ballet”

Although the 5-day run of Ryan McNamara‘s well-received Performa 13 commission “MEƎM: A Story Ballet About the Internet,” ended on Tuesday, there is already talk of re-staging the show. At a lecture given by McNamara on Thursday at the Performa hub, RoseLee Goldberg sang the artist’s praises for the unorthodox dance performance that literally moved the audience around the Connelly Theater to view different dance vignettes happening simultaneously (read Rozalia Jovanovic’s review of the piece here). At the talk, McNamara spoke on the beginnings of his interest in dance, the sources for the choreography, and the inclusion of double dream hands.

On his interest in dance:

I was a photographer and I came to New York thinking I was going to do photos and videos. One thing I really was excited about was going to dance performances. I went to contemporary dance downtown, Lincoln Center, I just went to everything.

On trying to tell a story through ballet:

I’ll start with the title “ME3M: A Story Ballet About the Internet.” For those of you that don’t know, it’s a very traditional form of ballet like “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Nutcracker.” Especially in the 20th century, there is this move away from any narrative in dance. It’s not a very effective way to tell a story. It’s surreal. I really wanted to go back to that. I also wanted to break the cardinal rule of art-making and tell you what the piece was about in the title.

On the genesis of the piece:

I was very set on this idea in my head to translate the architecture of the internet into a physical space. I was also thinking about what the internet has done to my attention span. A three-minute video is so short but you look over and there’s a little screen with another video.

On choreographing from internet memes:

I had all of the dancers email me video clips of movements on the internet that they found interesting. And I said, ‘not something you’re good at, not something that represents how you move on stage, but what you find interesting.’ Something I was thinking about at the time was how we have this encyclopedia of movement that is YouTube. Almost every human movement ever created is on there. It’s just not categorized. My filter was what do the dancers like? And what do I like? So they gave me all these links and I cut them down to three-second pieces. The beginning part, the first thing that you see is actually a 15-second clip of Tina Turner and I just said how slow can you guys do this?

On the influence of Double Dream Hands:

One of the dancers, Andrew Champlin, sent me this clip [Double Dream Hands]. I love that, but what does that have to do with the way that Andrew Champlin moves? So, I came up with a term called Cunningchine which is half [Merce] Cunningham, half [George] Balanchine. I said to him, ‘We’re going to take that and do Cunningchine.’ He actually does that exact phrase, the double dream hands moment.

On the rehearsal process:

We never ran the piece. It was impossible. There were 50 people involved. I would have four rehearsals a day. And it worked, I can’t believe it.

On those people movers:

One thing I found that was really interesting was realizing that the people movers’ choreography was as intricate, if not more, than the dancers. It took a long time to figure out how it was going to work and my brain doesn’t work that way so I consulted architects, financial analysts, people whose brains I thought could wrap around how to move 100 people in a system. I can’t believe it worked.

On the history of people dancing:

I said this piece is not about dance history, it’s about the history of people dancing. I’m much more interested in the broad spectrum of movement, but obviously that includes figures within dance history so there’s a lot of Jerome Robbins, a lot of Balanchine.

— Ashton Cooper (@ashton_cooper)

(Photo: Performa Facebook )