Madeline Hollander's ARENA at Beach Sessions Traces and Erases

 In Dd Exclusive, Uncategorized

This Saturday, Madeline Hollander’s Arena—a series of duets for six dancers and a sand zamboni—will begin tracing and erasing a journey through the sand in Far Rockaway, Queens as part of the Beach Sessions Dance Series. Candice Thompson spoke with Hollander by phone about the the process and inspirations underpinning this enigmatic performance. 

1. a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.

2. lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.


“I should now like to prove the irreversibility of eternity by using the jejune experiment for proving entropy. Picture in your mind’s eye the sand box divided in half with black sand on one side and white sand on the other. We take a child and have him run hundreds of times clockwise in the box until the sand gets mixed and begins to turn grey; after that we have him run anti-clockwise, but the result will not be the restoration of the original division but a greater degree of greyness and an increase in entropy.

Of course, if we filmed such and experiment we could prove the reversibility of eternity by showing the film backwards, but then sooner or later the film itself would crumble or get lost and enter a state of irreversibility.”

—Robert Smithson, from the essay “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey” (1967)



{ DIYdancer }, Candice Thompson: When I first read about Arena, I immediately thought of the land artists of the 1970’s. Do you take inspiration from them?

Madeline Hollander: There is some land art inspiration in my work. I was definitely re-reading the Smithson essay where he describes the sandbox and uses it to show entropy and order. But the piece really began two years ago at a residency in Miami. I found myself watching sand zambonis and I began to think of them as endangered creatures. I started waking up early and chasing after them at sunrise as they picked up trash. I also started talking to the drivers and began to hear their stories of this job as a mediation where everyday held a surprise. There was also this before sunrise culture, people on a treasure hunt, using metal detectors and often blocking the path of the zambonis. As I collected these anecdotes, I knew I wanted to make a duet between a zamboni and dancers, understanding their bodies as one being. On a stage you wouldn’t be able to see tracks like in the sand, but it wasn’t possible to make this piece of art in Miami. However, after many meetings in Queens, we were able to make it happen for Beach Sessions.

CT: Why did you see them as endangered creatures?

MH: Sand is a limited resource because of the mass production of Chinese cinder blocks. There are sand mining dredges in the oceans pumping sand to rebuild shorelines but also because the local resources have gone to produce cement and concrete. What does it mean to have this resource that we think of as infinite, just like water, become limited? Sand is also important to our daily life and culture—glass is made from sand and silicon too, the chips in our phones…so the zamboni creates a stage or track for dancers and their footprints are a drawing, a document temporarily recorded in sand. But over time the roles reverse, in the second cycle the zamboni loops around to catch up with them and erases the tracks.


CT: This performance will be for six dancers and a sand zamboni, yet you speak of it as duets…

MH: I am interested in the differences between a duet, a duel and a pas de deux: a duet has the same choreography for two dancers, a duel is when both parties have the same rules/language and same choreography but are in conflict, and a pas to me is a dance between two people where the choreography is different and enabling and themes of drama and gender often underscore it. Right now, utilizing the dancers as one creature, it feels more like a duet. Arena is one of three pieces, that for me, fit under the same umbrella conceptually, using these three dynamics to explore my interest in concrete, sand and water, with notions of change in our society and how we build.

CT: What was your process like with the dancers?

MH: We rehearsed in a studio and then on the beach too, mostly just to look at patterns in the sand and adjust impossible movements where we were getting stuck. There is lots of friction with tennis shoes, so we needed to see what is doable. My plan was basically wiped away when we implemented the choreography because it has its own pace, so sometimes the zamboni has to lap us which is a bit of a change.

CT: Who is driving the zamboni?

MH: A beach sifter, as they are officially called, named Steve. He works for the Queens Department of Parks and Recreation. He was very enthusiastic about the piece and has very generously given us time after his shift to rehearse. We plan to do a beach cleanup together after the performance.

Saturday 8/26 at 6 p.m.
Beach 110 in Far Rockaway, Queens as part of the Beach Sessions Dance Series
FREE and open to the public

For more information, click here.

Photography by Samantha Casolori; Film stills by Sam Fleischner.

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