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Myth & Transformation: Martha Graham Dance Company at The Joyce, Program C…

March 13, 2013
cave of the heart

Blakeley White-McGuire in Martha Graham’s Cave of the Heart, Photo by Costas

Myth and Transformation was an apt name for the Martha Graham Dance Company’s 2013 New York Season at the Joyce Theater. Martha Graham is the myth, a woman legendry for being larger than life who’s dances were inspired by both legend and myth, and it is her company that is in the midst of transformation. As the mystical Phoenix rises from the ashes so does the Graham Company surface from the waters of Hurricane Sandy…

Everyone scrambled after Hurricane Sandy, saving what could be saved, new costumes were made and sets restored. New choreography created, old choreography re-envisioned and a formerly “lost” work painstakingly reconstructed from archives and interviews. (A special thank you must be awarded to Kim Jones for bring Imperial Gesture to life…) Program C of the Company’s two week season was evidence of the bounty of all that energy.

Cave of the Heart, created 67 years ago and first seen in 1946 is Martha Graham’s second experiment in Greek mythology, the first being Tragic Patterns in 1933. Utilizing one of the most iconic of the almost 20 sets Isamu Noguchi created for her, Ms. Graham delves into Jungian psychology and explores the destructive powers of love and the dark passions that guard the human heart in her tale of Medea.

As the Princess, King Creon’s Daughter, Iris Florentiny was the perfect innocent, an unknowing catalyst for jealous and revenge. Jason, portrayed by Tadej Brdnik seemed overly protective of her and more than little excited in her presence. Medea, danced by the stunning Miki Orihara,  moved upon the stage with determination, a women scorned and bent upon revenge. Blakely White-McGuire as the Chorus kept pace with Ms. Orihara with forceful contractions and twisting body falls in this tale of despair and anguish.

Xiaochuan Xie, Mariya Dashkina Maddux & Ying Xin in Luca Veggetti’s “From the Grammar of Dreams”. Photo by Costas

Xiaochuan Xie, Mariya Dashkina Maddux & Ying Xin in Luca Veggetti’s “From the Grammar of Dreams”. Photo by Costas

Luca Veggetti’s From the Grammar of Dreams is a work for five women, PeiJu Chien-Pott, Mariya Dashkina Maddux, Blakeley White-McGuire, Xiaochuan Xie and Ying Xin, is also a journey into the subconscious. Using Kiaja Saariahio eerie score Mr. Veggetti created disturbing and compelling imagery upon a canvas of abstraction that was non-linear and cannot be explained but must be seen. Beverly Emmons must be mentioned for her lighting which allowed the work to breathe and lent dreaminess as dancers faded in and out at different places on stage. The artistic team of Mr. Veggetti, Mr. Saariahio and Ms. Emmons contributed their work on From the Grammar of Dreams in support of the company’s storm recovery efforts.

Diversion of Angels, set to the music of Gian Carlo Menotti, was choreographed in 1948, two years after Cave of the Heart. But where Cave of the Heart is signature Graham dance theater, Diversion of Angels is lyrical and movement focused. It does not express the deep angst of most of Ms. Graham’s works but is lighter and not as serious. Diversion of Angels was well danced it’s just that I have never been a big fan of the piece.

I was very opposed to the Lamentation Variations when I first heard of the project. Conceived in 2007, choreographers are asked to create a four minute movement study in reaction to a film of Martha Graham performing Lamentation. (Performed to music by Zoltán Kodály, Lamentation premiered on January 8, 1930, at New York’s Maxine Elliott’s Theatre) I considered it outright sacrilege…who ever came up with this idea should be burned at the stake….well, I humble take all that back. Lamentation Variations is the one piece of work I am determined to see in each Graham season. I have seen six of the eight created. I think Lar Lubovitch’s  study is my favorite for it comes closer to the original concept of Lamentation

….Lamentation, my dance of 1930, is a solo piece in which I wear a long tube of material to indicate the tragedy that obsesses the body, the ability to stretch inside your own skin, to witness and test the perimeters and boundaries of grief, which is honorable and universal..      (Martha Graham, Blood Memory)

Lamentation Variations began with a brief archival film of Ms. Graham performing Lamentation as she talks about what the work meant to her.

Using Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen Bulareyaung Pagarlava’s Lamentation Variations was a beautiful and somewhat lyrical work for one woman and three men. Mariya Dashkina Maddux was torn in her response to the men, sometimes her grief was present and at other times repressed.

Doug Varone’s Lamentation Variations set to Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit is a work for four men. Mr. Varone focused on the bench used in Lamentation and had the men react to the bench differently each time it was moved. The men’s grief seemed deeply personal but at the same time they were willing to share that personal grief with each other. The work could be looked at in two ways, either as four separate men each expressing their individual grief or as one man who expressed his grief in four stages. Either way that you choose to view the work it was fascinating!

Tadej Brdnik, Lloyd Knight, Abdiel Jacobsen, Maurizio Nardi in Martha Graham Dance Company’s “Lamentation Variations / Varone Variation”, Choreography by  Doug Varone, Photo by Paula Kajar

Tadej Brdnik, Lloyd Knight, Abdiel Jacobsen, Maurizio Nardi in Martha Graham Dance Company’s “Lamentation Variations / Varone Variation”, Choreography by Doug Varone, Photo by Paula Kajar

Yvonne Rainer’s Lamentation Variations had a cast of three, Janet Eilber, Katherine Crockett and a paper shredder. Ms. Crocket stepped onto a bench and then sat hunched over with her arms withdrawn into an oversized pink tee-shirt, a seeming parody of Ms. Graham’s stretchy tube of fabric, while off to the side Janet Eilber impatiently kept referring to her watch. Ms. Crocket would squirm around a little as if super-bored then knap upon her cradled hands. Ms. Eilber would have to drag a spotlight across stage and sign it directly in Ms. Crocket’s face to get her moving again.

I am reminded of today’s obsession with celebrity and reality television in a world where everyone seems to need the spotlight. Ms. Eilber begins to shred paper while Ms. Crocket pulled a long trail of purple mesh through her tee-shirt. It ended with a cheerful and casual wave as Ms. Crocket exited the stage.

…..Side Bar: When an alumnus of the Judson Era is choreographing for the Martha Graham Dance Company, well, let’s just say we have come full circle……  

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