Did You Know There's A Parade In The Met?
Madeline Hollander’s Hydro Parade involves 15 dancers, 2 loops around New York City's most legendary museum, and 1 experience that will live in your brain forever.
By Leah Yassky
The Aftershow is a monthly column that reviews performances, including ballet, musicals, concerts, and more.
Parade season: everyone’s there, and you just happened upon it, and there’s a show and a sense that it might always be like this. We’re celebrating something conceptual, maybe something beyond representation (Freedom, Pride, Thanksgiving). It is tradition, or time, or accumulating new life and shedding old.
Madeline Hollander’s Hydro Parade, an evening with 15 dancers, takes us twice around a course at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In this parade, knowing and unknowing onlookers travel alongside the even traffic, and for almost two hours, we become one moving body.
In the beginning, a cluster of knowing viewers look around to see if they have arrived. Suddenly, the parade begins around a fountain beneath us. A few at a time, we are introduced to the straight-faced, gesturing dancers. Each is wearing a tight black top with a unique sculptural feature on the arm. Their matching belts hold up orange-soled, thigh-high rubber boots. They take turns calling out counts of 8 at varying speeds. We watch from above.
Soon enough, we are being led through the galleries, and we are on our way. They move in synchronous and complimentary motions. A long line of heavy steps and light turns. They know the path better than we do, and we trust them to guide us along the invisible tracks. Trying to stay on course, I lose sight of the people I came with. The crowd is morphing, but we are clearly still one unit.
We pass crowds who didn’t come for this. The way we attend is too formal for walking through a museum but too informal for watching a performance. Much like a 4th of July parade, the mind can wander to display cases in the side shops while the band marches on. There is a sense that the show is all around, that life is all around. You can stop for a few minutes to have a conversation or go to the bathroom. The show will go on. An hour into the performance, I see one viewer pull out their laptop to casually check emails at the Temple of Dendur while the dancers kept on.
Somehow, all these stimuli provide a fertile ground for focus. One of my math professors used to tell me this as well: Don’t focus too much on fully digesting each crumb as it drops—that’s not the point. The specific clicks will come later. Let your mind wander. Let it zoom out enough to see the bigger picture. Enjoy being enveloped.
Hydro Parade contains many simultaneous pieces, working in tandem, to help us notice a larger system at play. I talked to Loreta Lamargese, who has worked with Hollander at Bortolami Gallery to develop an exhibit of 27 watercolors researching the flowing waterways of the Met. Loreta described Madeline’s process of getting to know the museum not as a building or as an institution but as a live body.
Madeline had a residency at the Met when developing Hydro Parade. She asked to meet with a member of the Met staff who had worked there for a long time who could grant her access to information rooted in the building. It’s like asking your grandma why the floorboard creeks when you turn the faucet on. Some things come with time.
The stress of the performance is clear. Not only are the dancers managing the physicality of the long parade—they are also juggling the weight of thigh-high rubber waders (hot), the formality of an elite institution (heavy), and the traffic of oblivious museum-goers (hazardous). Viewers are often close enough to the dancers to see sweat beads drip. Loreta told me that when the dancers took their waders off at the end of each performance, pools of sweat ran out of their boots. This is the essence of summer—public, swarming, accidental, sticky, overwhelming, endless, and (above all) wet.
Water is the feature driving this whole performance, and we see it laid out at Bortolami. The watercolors are made using water from the natural spring under the Met, alongside the Old Croton Aqueduct. Madeline’s maps of each floor of the Met locate the water sources and paths to get to them. The costume study watercolors show ideas for what the dancers might have worn (huge tea cups, pots, vases). These imagined outfits show how a dancer might wear a 4-foot vessel, like the ones in the halls of the museum.
Trying to picture the diagonal aqueduct underneath the gridded rooms of the Met, I can see that my imagined architecture is missing some grounding. Madeline’s paths, the ambling investigation, and the charting of water all show that this system is unobvious.
The end is simple—we clap where we began. Our group trickles out one by one. We quickly transition out of the system and into our individualized courses. By the time we are on the street, the synchronicity is gone.