Skip to content

Acts of Light: Martha Graham Contemporary Dance at Summerstage in Central Park….

August 3, 2013
Maurizio Nardi in Conversation of Lovers from Martha Graham’s Acts of Light: Martha Graham Contemporary Dance.. Photo: Eliana Rowe

Maurizio Nardi in Conversation of Lovers from Martha Graham’s Acts of Light: Martha Graham Contemporary Dance.. Photo: Eliana Rowe

With a slight breeze, dappled shadows from majestic trees, the winding paths through Nature’s glory, Central Park is a magical place in the summer. So I was thrilled to attend a performance of the Martha Graham Contemporary Dance for Summerstage in Central Park in July.

Returning for its fourth year, Dancin’ Downtown at The Joyce Theater is a competition that provides dance students the opportunity to perform in original routines in hopes of winning scholarships and performance opportunities. Individual dancers and entire studios are rewarded with scholarships to summer intensives and regional conventions by the judging panel and Dancers Responding to Aids (DRA) sponsors. This year’s recipient of the 2013 Joyce Theater Choreography Award was given the opportunity to open for  Martha Graham Contemporary Dance for Summerstage.

Xiaochuan Xie & Maurizio Nardi in Conversation of Lovers from Martha Graham’s Acts of Light: Martha Graham Contemporary Dance. Photo: Eliana Rowe

Xiaochuan Xie & Maurizio Nardi in Conversation of Lovers from Martha Graham’s Acts of Light: Martha Graham Contemporary Dance. Photo: Eliana Rowe

Jaclyn Walsh, who received the 2013 Joyce Theater Choreography Award began the evening with the winning piece, Trajectory. Ms. Walsh’s Trajectory draws you in, performed by the young ladies of Walker’s Dance & Gymnastics, at first it seemed to be just a collection of gymnastic routines but quickly developed into a work of depth and complexity. With sixteen dancers on stage, action abounded everywhere and it was indeed a surprising treat. Thank you Ms. Walsh and Walker Dance….

Martha Graham’s Acts of Light, choreographed in 1981 “…takes its title from a letter written by one of Miss Graham’s favorite poets, Emily Dickinson. Writing to a friend, the poet thanked her hostess for the acts of light, friendship and atmosphere that had beautified a summer”.

Xiaochuan Xie & Maurizio Nardi in Conversation of Lovers from Martha Graham’s Acts of Light: Martha Graham Contemporary Dance. Photo: Aylin Gucalp

Xiaochuan Xie & Maurizio Nardi in Conversation of Lovers from Martha Graham’s Acts of Light: Martha Graham Contemporary Dance. Photo: Aylin Gucalp

Using the music of the 19th Century symphonic composer from Denmark, Carl Nielsen, the work is in three sections. The first section was a duet for Xiaochuan Xie and Maurizio Nardi entitled Conversation of Lovers.

There is a beauty and specialness to Ms. Xie’s dancing that must be witnessed to fully appreciate. She grabs you attention when she steps on stage, baring her soul as she displays both/either joy or inner turmoil. I felt from her performance the same overwhelming emotion that I experienced when witnessing former Graham company members such as Christine Dakin, Terese Capucilli or Jacqulyn Buglisi.

Lloyd Mayor & Blakely White-McGuire in Lament from Martha Graham’s Acts of Light: Martha Graham Contemporary Dance. Photo: Eliana Rowe

Lloyd Mayor & Blakely White-McGuire in Lament from Martha Graham’s Acts of Light: Martha Graham Contemporary Dance. Photo: Eliana Rowe

Maurizio Nardi is a gifted dancer in so many ways, impeccable technique and dark good looks, but it is the complexity that he weaves into his performances that is amazing. He is wrapped in mystery and with a sudden contraction or sweeping gesture his is able to express so much.

Lament, the second section calls to mind Ms. Graham’s Lamentation, Blakely White-McGuire, surrounded by five shirtless men, is encompassed in white stretchy fabric that conceals her body. Ms. White-McGuire creates incredible imagery with the use of the white fabric, her hair flying in reaction to both her movement and an extension of the sorrow she portrays. She is reflective of Ms. Graham’s portrayal of the woman as goddess; the men encircle her on their knees acknowledging her as sacred and divine.

Iris Florentiny in Ritual in the Sun from Martha Graham’s Acts of Light: Martha Graham Contemporary Dance Photo: Justina Wong

Ritual to the Sun, or rather Acts of Light itself, was seen as Ms. Graham’s beginning of her Neo-classical period. It is an in-depth study of the technique she had created in her lifetime. You see the deep contractions, the spine twisting as the body is lowered to the floor. Visible are the use of the back and energies radiated outward from the solar plexus.

Martha Graham’s Lamentation, when seen in 1930 was said to have changed modern dance due to its expression of raw emotion.

….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 is an ongoing project in which a choreographer is invited to make a four-minute dance response to Ms. Graham’s classic solo Lamentation.

Bulareyaung Pagarlava’s Lamentation Variations uses Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Mr. Pagarlava created in lyrical work for a woman and three men. Xaiochun Xie is sublime in her response to the three men, Abdiel Jacobsen, Lloyd Knight and Lloyd Mayor. You can feel her grief and the men become reflective in their reaction to her emotions.

Xiaochuan Xie with Lloyd Mayor, Abdiel Jacobsen and Lloyd Knight in Bulareyaung Pagarlava’s “Lamentation Variations”. Martha Graham Contemporary Dance, Photo: Eliana Rowe

Xiaochuan Xie with Lloyd Mayor, Abdiel Jacobsen and Lloyd Knight in Bulareyaung Pagarlava’s “Lamentation Variations”. Martha Graham Contemporary Dance, Photo: Eliana Rowe

Richard Move’s Lamentation Variations is a solo for Katherine Crockett. She slowly and surreally moves across the front of the stage, holding her body in deep back bends for long moments of time. She is drawn to a bright white light just to the edge of the stage like a moth to a flame.

Katherine Crockett in Richard Move’s “Lamentation Variations”. Martha Graham Contemporary Dance. Photo: Justina Wong

Katherine Crockett in Richard Move’s “Lamentation Variations”. Martha Graham Contemporary Dance. Photo: Justina Wong

Larry Keigwin’s Lamentation Variations uses the full company and the music of Chopin. Mr. Keigwin’s work is filled with self-examination, physically and spiritually. The dancers are often touching their faces or bodies as if in assurance of the reality of their existence. There is a communal feeling of turmoil, of tragedy expressed by a community as a whole. There is simplicity of movement; rocking side to side, hands clasped, then two will come together in a shared embrace of solace or comfort.

Tadej Brdnik & Katherine Crockett with Martha Graham Contemporary Dance in Larry Keigwin’s “Lamentation Variations”. Photo: Aylin Gucalp

Tadej Brdnik & Katherine Crockett with Martha Graham Contemporary Dance in Larry Keigwin’s “Lamentation Variations”. Photo: Aylin Gucalp

Martha Graham’s 1936 work Chronicle was created at a time when Fascism was on the rise in Europe. That same year Ms. Graham declined Hitler’s invitation to appear at the Arts Festival that was running concurrent with the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics.

The formal invitation arrived, late in 1935. It never entered my mind to say yes. How could I dance in Nazi Germany? I replied:

“I would find it impossible to dance in Germany at the present time. So many artists whom I respect and admire have been persecuted; have been deprived of their right to work, and for such unsatisfactory and ridiculous reasons, that I should consider it impossible to identify myself, by accepting the invitation, with the regime that has made such things possible.”

Martha Graham

Blakely White-McGuire in Spectre-1914 from Martha Graham’s Chronicle. Martha Graham Contemporary Dance. Photo: Eliana Rowe

Chronicle does not attempt to show the realities of war, rather does it, by evoking war’s images, set forth the fateful prelude to war, portray the devastation of spirit which is leaves in its wake, and suggest an answer…(Original 1936 program note for Chronicle)

Set in three sections, the first Spectre-1914, a lone figure is seen on stage. Blakely White-McGuire is sitting on a round platform wearing a black dress with a voluminous skirt. She manipulates the dress as if an extension of herself. She arches her back, throwing her hands up while holding the skirt’s edge. The skirt is underlined in blood-red. As she flings and tosses the fabric it as if she is flinging blood freely about her.

The second section, Steps in the Street begins with the majesty of quiet. Eleven women, some backwards, enter the stage with halting steps, their back’s slightly arched, the left hand is on the right hip, the right hand is on the left shoulder. Slowly and in silence, from both sides of the stage each dancer, their path’s at a slight angle or direction, enter, cross the stage and exit the opposite side.

Martha Graham Contemporary Dance in Martha Graham’s Chronicle. Photo: Justina Wong

Martha Graham Contemporary Dance in Martha Graham’s Chronicle. Photo: Justina Wong

Wallingford Riegger’s score begins with a certain aggression, almost rebellious as the dancers move with great energies around the stage. The music is bold as the women stop, looking straight ahead, they pound their fist on their pelvis in frustration. In a circle they move, repeatedly bending over as if overcome by grief, then with their arms held out in front, the walk off stage as if sleep-walkers. Leaving on stage a sole figure that is defiant, refusing to succumb to helplessness.

In the third and final section, Prelude to Action, you see the resolve of the human spirit in its determination for freedom.

Martha Graham Contemporary Dance since 1926 has been a leader in modern dance and with this program you see why. Ms. Graham’s works are as vibrant now as when they were first created, for they speak of the inner landscape of the human condition.

Advertisements

From → Dance

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: