The colliding worlds of Ryan McNamara

22 October 2010 | By Anna Sutton

When you visit Ryan McNamara’s website you are greeted with the words “Ryan McNamara thanks the many women who taught him how to scream” before a mysterious man entices with offerings of “dancing, beefcake, blood, dead grandparents, a magic lady and much more.” Such magic realism is characteristic of McNamara’s performance art, which often uses dance as a central theme.

For Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York McNamara choreographed a film The Watch in collaboration with design duo Timo Weiland for the launch of their Spring Summer 2011 collection A Wharf on the Baltic. The dynamic stop motion piece showcases the range’s wayfaring style by utilising dancers instead of models wearing clothing. For the live show, models  eschewed traditional runway presentation, standing on pale wood platforms while the projected film created fashion origami – dancers carving through the air in a kaleidoscope of sunlit colour and playground textures. The choice of film has been described as symbolising New York Fashion Week’s new home at the Lincoln Centre and its proximity to the Juilliard School.

Ryan has just wrapped up ‘Make Ryan a dancer’, his contribution to the Greater New York festival. This durational performance comprised104 days of public dance lessons in the foyer of the MOMA PS1 art gallery, with visitors encouraged to join the spectacle. Noteworthy teachers (including members of the American Ballet Theatre and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company) assisted Ryan come to terms with predominantly ballet and hip hop forms as he marked out the jagged territory between amateur and professional. The lessons culminated in ‘Finale’, an on sight multi-genre dance performance that utilised the entirety of the PS1 space, marking its transformation from gallery to public dance studio to hot and sweaty stage.  Ryan describes his vision of the finale.

“The Finale will be a piece of choreography that would have been impossible for me to accomplish on the first day of the exhibition. It speaks to transformation; my body is a sculpture that I develop publicly, culminating with a grand unveiling.”

I’ve often fantasised about hosting my own private cocktail party in the gold balustraded corridors of the State Theatre, but taking over one of New York’s most exciting contemporary art galleries in the name of dance will be hard to beat.