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Cortege of Eagles, Acts of Light and Graham II: Keeping the Legacy Alive….

June 22, 2013
Graham II Dancers Charlotte Landreau & Lorenzo Pagano in Martha Graham’s Acts of Light. Photo by Paul b. Goode

Graham II Dancers Charlotte Landreau & Brice Payet in Martha Graham’s Acts of Light. Photo by Paul B. Goode

I have been attending performances of the Martha Graham Dance Company’s for the last 30 years. I have seen a lot of the Company’s repertory, but I had never seen Secular Games from 1962 or Cortege of Eagles from 1967. So when I discovered that Graham II, the dance troupe for the Martha Graham School of Dance, was performing both works at the Martha Graham Studio, I made sure to be there.

The first performance of the evening was an excerpt from Martha Graham’s 1962 work, Secular Games, set to the music of Robert Starer. The piece started in silence as five men, Alexandre Balmain, Timothy Kochka, Gildas Lemonnier, Lorenzo Pagano and Brice Payet, stood in a tableau.

Secular Games is a dynamic dance in which Ms. Graham pushed the parameters of her men’s technique. She forced them to tackle larger and more difficult movements than was the norm for male dancers of that day.

Agnes de Mille refers to Secular Games as primarily a work for men and wrote in her biography of Ms. Graham that “…it’s a fine, invigorating romp it is, unlike anything else Martha had done”. Ms. de Mille states that never before had there been such a collection of male dancers.

The male dancers of Graham II certainly did the work great justice. All had impeccable technique, each a star in his own right.

Graham II Dancer Denise Steiner in Martha Graham’s Cortege of Eagles. Photo by Paul b. Goode

Graham II Dancer Denise Steiner in Martha Graham’s Cortege of Eagles. Photo by Paul B. Goode

Cortege of Eagles is one Martha Graham’s Greek works created in 1967 to a score by Eugene Lester. It is set in Troy after its defeat by the Greeks. Agnes de Mille wrote of Cortege of Eagles, that it is “the story of Hecuba, bereft, monumental mother grieving for her dead… the last word on war…this is grief for all the young, not remorse but grief, full knowledge of the world’s futility and wickedness”.

The first excerpt was The Captive Women of Troy, six grief-stricken women, often seen as if their hands were bound, admitting and submitting to the life that awaits them.

Gildas Lemonnier as The Ferryman of the Dead danced and smiled wickedly, as he acknowledges all those that most pay to cross the river of souls. Provocatively he is wearing almost nothing; just one leg is covered in red as if dipped in blood. We watched as he crossed back forth across the stage, enjoying the suffering all around him.

The Duet of Andromache and Hector was one the many highlights of the evening. Jaclyn Rea and Lorenzo Pagano performed a sensual duet. Their embraces were fueled by both passion and fear, perhaps Andromache has a sense of her husband’s impending fate.

Graham II in Martha Graham’s Acts of Light. Photo by Paul b. Goode

Graham II Dancer Charlotte Landreau and Lorenzo Pagano in Martha Graham’s Acts of Light. Photo by Paul B. Goode

Charlotte Landreau’s Solo of Polyxena portrayed a young woman of great vulnerability; her movements wrapped in grief from the death all around her. She would wrap her arms around herself as if in comfort, but always it was to no avail. At one point she tears her dress in anguish…it was a commanding performance.

The Warriors, Alexandre Balmain, Timothy Kochka, Gildas Lemonnier, Lorenzo Pagano and Brice Payet would periodically move across the stage as a group, always at a diagonal, their hands slapping their thighs in mid-jump. The men moved in a regimented manner as if soldiers on the march.

Cortege of Eagles is a work that explores tragedy and acknowledges the grief caused by war. The work has a unique cadence, throughout the piece hands slap the body; feet slap the floor, both pounding out forceful rhythms as is drums of war.

Anna Kisselgoff wrote that Acts of Light, created in 1981, was Martha Graham’s most controversial dance to date and the heralding of a possible neo-classical period for Ms. Graham. It is a strong departure from the ritualistic angst driven work of earlier years. There is less emphasis of the theatrics; instead, the choreography alone is the main proponent and vehicle for expression. The music is by the Danish symphonic composer, Carl Nielsen (1865-1931).

The work is in three sections, the first was entitled Conversation of Lovers. Martha Graham Company soloist, Dashkina Maddux joined Lorenzo Pagano in a duet of great passion. When Ms. Maddux comes upon stage you become immediately aware that you are in the presence of greatness. Ms. Maddox did not just perform but gave a glimpse of her soul as she danced.

Charlotte Landreau’s solo in the second section of the work, entitled Lament, was just as powerful as her solo in Cortege of Eagles. The five men moved as satellites around Ms. Landreau’s sun. Reminiscent to Ms. Graham’s signature 1930’s Lamentation, Ms. Landreau’s wears a stretchy white fabric that hides her body, only her head and feet left exposed. The fabric becomes an extension of her expression, emphasizing her contractions as her body transforms into geometric shapes in space.

Ritual to the Sun was my favorite section. It has an almost minimalist feel, everything stripped away till you only have the movement. It begins in the academic language of the Graham technique, floor contractions and the twisting torso, this develop into more advancement combinations of movements, from floor to standing and back again. The dancers are costumed in all gold for the work by Halston.

Created in 1981, Acts of Light is an in-depth study of the Graham technique, it is a statement of her accomplishment and the establishment of her methodology of movement that had been developed over the years. If you have not seen Acts of Light I encourage you to do so…There is a sense of transcendence in the work that radiates beauty.

Graham II also performed Unity, an excerpt from Mandala Project, choreographed by Kun-Lang Lin in 2011. This was a work alive, a pulsating organism of movement, the work held me enraptured, I did not want it to end.

Eleven dancers all wearing long read skirts stood in a cluster center stage and begin to move slowly, meditatively to Tim Russell’s score. The dancers’ movements begin to grow and build, energy ran through the dancers like a connective tissue.

Graham II surprised me, I expected a certain level of performance and technique, it is Martha Graham after-all, but the company truly excelled beyond any expectations I had. The company is filled with exuberant, talented young dancers who prevailed with every step, every contractions. Graham II is dedicated to keeping the rich legacy of Martha Graham alive.

Graham II was founded by Yuriko in 1983 (as the Martha Graham Ensemble) at the request of Martha Graham. Its mission is to bring fresh energy, passion, and vision to the brilliant tradition of Martha Graham. The dancers have been selected from among the hundreds of students from across the world and who study at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. Members are chosen by audition. While in Graham II, dancers are supported by a scholarship and may be given the opportunity to perform with the Martha Graham Dance Company.

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