Ryan McNamara’s Very Un-Balletlike Ballet Arrives in Miami

Ryan McNamara, digital C-print, 20 x 30 inches, edition of 5 Photo: Courtesy the artist

Last night, early arrivals gathered at the beautifully decayed Miami Grand Theater (the former Playboy Theater) for the rehearsal preview for Ryan McNamara’s MEƎM 4 Miami: A Story Ballet, a Performa 13 commission that has hit the ground running at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach. Though the interactive ballet premiered in New York City in 2013 and won Performa’s Malcolm McLaren Award that year, the piece is like a Tumblr page where it has maintained its essential structure but evolved to include more, more, more!

In order to enter the theater — which, in its ‘70s heyday, hosted divas like Tina Turner and Gladys Knight — classic Miami girls, outfitted in tight pink skirts with smiles to match, direct you through an abandoned kitchen with dusty appliances half-ripped from the wall. You enter into the ballroom, where an immense chandelier hangs from the ceiling; it’s so low that a child could run his fingers through the crystal strands, under which a group of office chairs are bizarrely arranged. Ah-ha, so this is going to be weird! And it is! Three male dancers in shiny blue spandex enter and begin their interpretative dancing moves — you know the type, it’s a little bit like ahhhhh, darling — synchronized to a soundtrack that begins with a Top Gun–esque anthem that quickly shifts into astral hip-hop, then moves into honky-tonk, and so on and so forth. This is not your usual Lincoln Center ballet. As more and more dancers fill the room, an army of strapping young kids armed with McNamara-designed hand trucks carts every single member of the audience to a different vista in the theater every five to ten minutes. That’s the whole gist or gimmick (depending on what you think of the performance). In one moment, you’re watching a Baryshnikov doppelgänger in a Hokusai-leotard print writhing against a mirror. The next, you’re staring straight at a dark wall. Some of us are even placed on the main stage.

Do you feel disoriented and manhandled? Why, that sounds like Art Basel Miami Beach! In fact, McNamara’s performance might be the perfect metaphor for the week that’s about to unfold. To which we say, go see MEƎM 4 Miami, which runs Wednesday, December 3 and Thursday, December 4 at 8 p.m. and 10.30 p.m. Except you can’t because it’s sold out. Just like Banksy’s Art Buff — oh, just kidding, that work of art is very much still for sale.

Ryan McNamara’s Un-Balletlike Ballet in Miami