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Martha Graham Dance Company: Fall & Recovery Hurricane Sandy Benefit Performance….

March 9, 2013
Blakeley White-McGuire in Martha Graham’s “Imperial Gesture” (1935). Photo by Charles Eilber

Blakeley White-McGuire in Martha Graham’s “Imperial Gesture” (1935). Photo by Charles Eilber

The Martha Graham Dance Co was not sparred the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. Just months before the Hurricane, the Martha Graham Dance Center moved to Westbeth, the former headquarters of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Westbeth sits alongside the Hudson River and when the it flooded so did the Westbeth’s basement which housed the props, costumes, jewelry and equipment for the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Submerged under thousands of gallons of muddy water were significant pieces of dance history that dated back decades, costumes and jewelry some worn by Ms. Graham herself, Isamu Noguchi iconic sets as well as the Company’s lighting and technical equipment. All this was submerged in water for a week before any removal or hope for restoration was possible.

Since October volunteers, restorers and conservators have been laboring to save as much as possible. Unfortunately not everything can be saved, but thanks to the efforts of many some will. But, all this does not come cheap and on Feb. 26th, in a one night only performance  the dance community came together for a benefit for the company.

Wendy Whelan and Ask la Cour amazed us with an excerpt from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Set the music of Avro Pärt, it was sheer transcendence to a higher state of being. Ms. Whelan uses her body as an artist uses a brush. She paints moving imagery with an elegance that is merged with great emotion. Between Ms. Whelan and Mr. la Cour was seen a deep intimacy, shared with each touch, gentle but electric.

We saw a too short excerpt of Richard Move’s newest work for the company, The Show (Achilles Heels). I am regretful that I was not able to see this piece in its entirety. The Show (Achilles Heels) is a work of the moment with constant movement that possessed a unique angular fluidity. Part of the brilliance of the work is that this is a new piece for the Graham Company using the Graham technique; I hope to see more of Mr. Moves’ choreography in the company’s repertory.

Francesca Harper’s 2.2 was a set of solos for herself and Eriko Iisaku. Ms. Iisaku solo was for me the more engrossing of the two. It was short, saccadic and powerful. Ms. Iisaku’s performance was emotional and to the point which cannot be said for Mr. Harper’s solo. Where Ms. Iisaku solo possessed a cold efficiency with the focus external, Ms. Harper’s was softer and with more passion and the focus internal. But with that said Ms. Harper’s solo was way too long, to the point if seemed a tad self-indulgent.

PeiJu Chien-Pott & Ying Xin in Luca Veggetti’s “From the Grammar of Dreams”. Photo by Costas

PeiJu Chien-Pott & Ying Xin in Luca Veggetti’s “From the Grammar of Dreams”. Photo by Costas

Moon, a duet from Ms. Graham’s 1952 Canticle for Innocent Comedians is still as relevant today as when it was created. This duet can be held up against anything choreographed today by ANYBODY! The piece has an emotionality that is hard to state in mere words. Abdiel Jacobsen was magnetic and strong whereas Miki Orihara possessed a quiet strength and yet a fragility that Mr. Jacobsen protected with great determination. All I can say is wow, just wow! It’s everything you would expect of Graham and with bow on top!

I have long wanted to see Irina Dvorovenko perform and was delighted by her performance of Michel Fokine’s The Dying Swan to the Camille SaintSaëns score. She held us mesmerized with willowy arms and tiny bourees, her back arching like a regal swan. Few performances actually bring me to tears and this one did just that. I was not the only moist eye in the audience after Ms. Dvorovenko’s swan was gripped by the final spasm of death.

Kim Jones reconstruction of Martha Graham’s 1935 Imperial Gesture was sheer brilliance. To think this solo may have been lost forever and now is again upon the stage is evidence of the dedication of Janet Eilber and all of the Graham Company. Blakely White-McGuire channeled Martha in ever contraction and sweep of the leg. With Ms. White-McGuire’s performance we understood why the dance was entitled Imperial Gesture. Kim Jones cannot be thanked enough for restoring a vital piece of our dance history.

Two new pieces were also given the spotlight. Nacho Duato’s Rust is a work in progress for five men. Tadej Brdnik, Abdiel Jacobsen, Lloyd Knight Maurizio Nardi and Ben Schultz were seemingly always in contact with one another like a volt of energy traveling from body to body. This piece I am greatly looking forward to.

Luca Veggetti contacted Janet Eilber immediately after Hurricane Sandy and wanted to help, he created From The Grammar of Dreams as his way of assisting the company. The piece is for five women, PeiJu Chien-Pott, Mariya Dashkina Maddux, Blakeley White-McGuire, Xiaochuan Xie and Ying Xin, it is a journey into the subconscious. It is a non-linear work and follows its own set of rules. But we see in these two works, not a Company drowned but instead a company swimming to the top.

The evening ended with Panorama, a work created by Ms. Graham in 1935. This piece was one of my favorites of the evening, for it was danced by 35 NYC high school students. The glee and commitment these kids gave to this work displayed such honesty of performance and a deep dedication to the integrity of the work. Costumed in bright red the youth marched, jumped and fast-stepped around the stage in a dizzying array of patterns. It was not just good but very good. Bravo to all……

This is one of the most diversified programs I have seen in a while and if you have not already garnered that I enjoyed the evening as a whole greatly, please start at the top and begin reading again……….

Martha Graham Dance Company: Fall & Recovery Hurricane Sandy Benefit Performance

Improvisation (Michelle Dorrance), After the Rain pas de deux (Christopher Wheeldon), Richard Move’s The Show (Achilles Heels) excerpt, Francesca Harper’s 2.2, George Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue excerpt, David Neumann’s Dose, Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan, Nacho Duato’s Rust, Luca Veggetti’s From the Grammar of Dreams and Martha Graham’s Moon (1952), Imperial Gesture (1935) and Panorama (1935)

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