I’ve always been partial to the word “protean,” from Proteus, a Greek sea or river god, who is versatile, flexible, mutable, adaptable, and capable of assuming many forms.
It’s the perfect adjective to describe Mark Haim.
I wrote the two sentences above right before elusive timing—due to crazy weather, fierce traffic and busy schedules—whisked Mark mostly out of reach for this week. So it’s mildly amusing to note that while Proteus was considered wise and prescient, he would answer only to someone who could capture him. Next week I’m plotting to catch up with Mark to talk about the piece he’s creating for Whim W’Him‘s IN-spired program,* but for now a little background.
Music has been in Mark’s soul and spirit his whole life. He was born New York City and at the age of 6 started classical piano lessons. Going on to attend the Manhattan School of Music Preparatory Division, he studied piano, theory, composition and chamber music, entering competitions, giving recitals and performing in musicals. As a young kid, he took tap-dancing for 3 years and between times scarcely stopped moving, but it was only at 17, at the end of high school, that he began serious dance training. Then, with a mere 3 months of classes under his belt, he was accepted into the Dance Division of the Juilliard School on an honorary scholarship. His excuse: “They needed men.”
This was just one of a number of notable sea-changes that have characterized Mark’s professional life. While at Juilliard, from which he graduated with a BFA, he was encouraged by the founder of the dance division, Martha Hill, to begin choreographing. With her recommendation as a carrot and and an injury as a stick—among other factors, and despite his not originally intending it quite that way—making dances soon turned into a career.
As Michael Upchurch reported in a 2012 interview for The Seattle Times, back when Mark was still at Julliard, “Hill connected him with Joffrey 2, where a workshop piece he did led to an invitation from Robert Joffrey himself, to set work on the main Joffrey company—immediately. ‘Things started happening really quickly,’ Haim marvels. ‘Everything went kind of crazy.’ A subsequent Haim piece for Ballett Frankfurt’s William Forsythe caught the eye of the assistant of legendary choreographer-director Jiri Kylian, and within months Haim had a letter from Kylian, inviting him to make a piece for NDT.
‘I kept looking at the letter,’ Haim recalls, ‘trying to see that he meant the second company, because I just couldn’t believe it.’ But, no—Kylian wanted him to make a piece for the main company. ‘At this point I was 26,’ Haim remembers. ‘It was going quickly.’”
Over the next couple of decades, Mark choreographed widely and wildly. In 1984-1987, he directed Mark Haim & Dancers, which performed at the Riverside Dance Festival in NYC, and at various theaters and venues in the US, Luxembourg, and Holland.
From 1987-1990, he was Artistic Director of the Companhia de Danca de Lisboa.
But eventually, he had had enough, and another of those big life changes Mark specializes in ensued. He finished current choreographic projects over the next 3 years, stopped taking on new ones, and came back to the US to regroup and rethink. It was at this time as well that he really started his teaching career, “which,” says Mark, “is important to mention, because we all do tend to give choreography and creativity the most prestige and significance and forget that it’s the day-to-day teaching and training that continually feeds and sustains this art form. Just like in the rest of American society, teachers get the short end of the stick and far less recognition (and compensation!) than they should be getting.”
He also began “the first solo project I ever did, and I spent about three and a half years in a studio making it.” In 1997, at age 36, Mark bounded back into the choreographic and performing life with both feet and his whole soul, via The Goldberg Variations. Last winter, in a Stance on Dance interview with Emmaly Weiderholt about the Dancing Over 50 Project, he reminisced, “It was a highlight because it was like climbing Mt. Everest. It felt like an impossible task to make an 80-minute solo, and it took a long time for me to even envision myself doing it. And once it was done, my life was again changed. Every subsequent performance was a highlight. I performed it for about five years, and there was never a performance where I was bored.”
Wrote Seattle dance critic Sandra Kurtz in 2008, when he reworked the piece at On the Boards for five dancers (among them Whim W’Him’s Jim Kent): “If you didn’t know Haim had made the dance for himself you would assume it was custom-tailored for its new cast, since it fits their individual skills and quirks…. Haim himself seems mercurial, especially on the night he performs the whole suite by himself….
Since Goldberg, Mark never seems to have stopped. Goldberg been presented in New York and at over 25 theaters around the Americas, in Seoul, South Korea, the First Progressive Dance Festival in Prague, and the Theater for the Young Spectator in Ekaterinburg, Russia, among many others. He received an MFA in Dance in 2006, in the first graduating class of the Hollins/ADF (American Dance Festival) MFA program. Right now he is teaching dance in Kirkland and at Velocity Dance Center in Seattle, and making a new piece for the University of Washington, where he was Senior Artist-in-Residence 2002-8, as well as for Whim W’Him.
Mark’s works are madly inventive. Take This Land is Your Land. In Upchurch’s words: “Seattle audiences got a glimpse of ‘Land,’ in all its minimalist absurdity, at On the Boards’ 2010 Northwest New Works Festival. What they saw: a dozen dancers doing a seemingly simple catwalk strut that soon became complicated by nutty stage business involving props, costumes, lack of costumes and subtle alterations of gait that owed a thing or two to Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.”
In Back to Front, Mark’s recent contribution to Trolley Dances—an annual, site-specific festival of performances staged in stairwells, rooftops, fountains, balconies and other stops along the San Diego Trolley line—”Dancers shimmy and tango down one of the alleys, mimicking the feeling of a busy Spanish street, complete with dogs and sidewalk cafes,” as a KBPS radio review put it.
By contrast, in the words of Kate Dobbs Ariall, writing for the Durham, North Carolina Five Point Star, “…a strange and wonderful work, Golden Age, by Mark Haim and Jesse Zaritt… evokes superheroes—and Caravaggio. Roman ruins—and the city dump. The now—and the mist-shrouded past. It remarks on ever-ascendant youth, flaunting its glories over sturdy age. Mostly it manages this without words, relying instead on Zaritt’s beautiful dancing body, limber and exuberant, and Haim’s graceful, certain elegance of motion. Which age is golden, young or older, now or past?” The work unfolds, adds Roy C. Dicks of the Ralegh News and Observer, “…on a haze-filled stage, garbed in flowing tunics. First the [two dancers] connected flamboyantly in classical-painting poses to epic movie soundtracks. Then disco music blared as Zaritt switched to sensual moves, striding the stage in stripper-club mode. Lastly, Zaritt reverently deferred to Haim, who moved slowly through melancholy poses in fading light, signally [sic] themes of aging and change.”
It was 30 years ago that Mark first started making dances. He’s created over 100 pieces by now. Having taught, danced and choreographed for companies large and small across the world, he still goes at life full tilt. In January of this year, he told Weiderholt of Stance for Dance, “I move every day. I have to do things that involve sweating slightly, like swimming, riding a stationary bike, doing things at the gym, yoga, and stretching every night before I go to sleep. I go through periods where I love to give myself a ballet barre. Other times I’ll get into a studio and just improvise for an hour. It varies. But I have to do something physical and feel myself moving. I just tore my meniscus, and I got into the rehab exercises as soon as possible. I get antsy otherwise.”