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Martha Graham Dance Company’s Program B at New York City Center 2014….

April 8, 2014
Martha Graham Dance Company “The Rite of Spring” Photo: Sinru Ku

Martha Graham Dance Company in “The Rite of Spring” Photo: Sinru Ku

The Martha Graham Dance Company has been almost swallowed up and spit into non-existence more times than once….I think it’s fair to say that in the company’s 88 years of existence being boxed up and boarded up has been an almost more than few times.…A recent as 2012, Hurricane Sandy poured the deep, dirty waters of the Hudson River into the basement of Westbeth, flooding the storage area of the company’s new home….leaving submerged for six days historical artifacts collected over the past 80 years, costumes worn by Martha Graham, renowned sets by Isamu Noguchi plus expensive tour equipment…all costing a pretty penny, approximated at over $4 million.

But, under the guidance of its Artistic Director Janet Eilber and Executive Director LaRue Allen, the Martha Graham Dance Company has been kept afloat and like a Phoenix from the ashes, rises ever again….

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Katherine Crockett in  Martha Graham's “Appalachian Spring” Photo: John Deane

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Katherine Crockett in Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring” Photo: John Deane

The Company’s 88th Season was labeled Myth and Transformation, revered Graham masterpieces were seen alongside newly commissioned work  by two of the world’s foremost choreographers… Andonis Foniadakis and Nacho Duato.

This season marked the 70th anniversary of Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring. With sets by Isamu Noguchi and thanks to Erick Hawkins (who was to wed Ms. Graham’s in 1948), he persuaded Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge to subsidize the commissioned score by Aaron Copland  and which was to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945.  A subtle nod to the Shakers can be found in the melody of Copland’s score, the austerity of the Isamu Noguchi’s sets and Ms. Graham’s simplicity in way she approached the choreography.

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Abdiel Jacobsen in Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring”

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Abdiel Jacobsen in Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring”

Appalachian Spring has become an American classic and is Ms. Graham’s ode to American optimism and determination in an era when the country needed it dearly. The work premiered in 1944, World War II had been raging since 1939, 110,000 Japanese Americans were interned in “War Relocation Camps”, the Hartford Circus Fire occurred and killed over a 100 children and with Operation Normandy or D-Day, over 4000 allied troops are killed with almost half of them American. With headlines like that the country was in need of optimism…

Appalachian Spring is ripe with the imagery of the American pioneers, people who were moving west to settle new territories, to start over, to rebuild their lives. Lloyd Knight as the Preacher walks on stage, both solemn and filled with self-importance with four women, his followers, in lock step behind him. He is a frontier evangelist, sharing images of hellfire and doom to any who disagree with him.

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Lloyd Knight & Natasha Diamond-Walker in Nacho Duato’s “Depak Ine” Photo: Costas

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Lloyd Knight & Natasha Diamond-Walker in Nacho Duato’s “Depak Ine”

Katherine Crocket, as the Pioneering Woman displayed a certain dignity, her role was to advise and act as protector, the wiser older woman. Black White-McGuire as the Bride and Abdiel Jacobsen as the Husband bring a youthful exuberance, a young couple that sees infinite possibilities before them.

The minimalism of Isamu Noguchi’s set reflects or at least hints of the Shakers influence. Stark simplicity is found in the use of lines and angles. The farmhouse, seen only from a side view, rakes towards the back of the stage, upon its porch is an abstract interpretation of a the rocking chair, thin, austere and looks as if it’s constructed of rusted metal. A section of fence, like a rodeo corral, extends into oblivion…

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Lloyd Knight, Lorenzo Pagano, & Ying Xin in Nacho Duato’s “Depak Ine” Photo: Costas

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Lloyd Knight, Lorenzo Pagano, & Ying Xin in Nacho Duato’s “Depak Ine”

Appalachian Spring is work of undoubted historical importance, both in dance history, as well as the American experience. Yet the stiff, formalized approach in the use of the body in space, plus Ms. Graham’s application of straight lines and ninety degree angles to move the dancers across the stage, seemed out of date. Where Ms. Graham’s 1935 solo Imperial Gesture or her 1981 neoclassic Acts of Light have stood the test of time and can stand against anything created by any of today’s foremost choreographers, Appalachian Spring unfortunately does not…

Nacho Duato’s works speaks to me like few others, whether it is his 1983 work Jardi Tancat, his 1998 work Without Words or my favorite Duende from 1991, his genius is evident. His latest work, Depak Ine, commissioned by the Martha Graham Dance Company, perfectly aligned within my estimations of Ms. Duato’s talents. Janet Eilber has said at the beginning of the performance that Mr. Duato mentioned he was reading the works of Darwin while thinking about the new project.

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Lorenzo Pagano & Ying Xin in Nacho Duato’s Depak Ine” Photo: Costas

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Lorenzo Pagano & Ying Xin in Nacho Duato’s Depak Ine”

Mr. Duato’s readings of Darwin are evident in the choreography, the use of animalistic and insect-like movements and the dancers moving as if controlled by a hive mind. Like ants, they worked in concert, grouping together, one on top of the other, doing what was necessary to achieve their desired goals.

Created in only five-weeks and using the music of John Talabot, the Graham dancers proved how truly gifted they are when they threw themselves through space while maintaining complete control of their bodies. The work was a perfect contrast to the formalism found in the Graham technique, being more relaxed in its approach towards the movement of the body in space. It was a surprising and refreshing work that was brilliantly performed by the Graham dancers and a great addition to the Graham company’s repertory.

Peiju Chien-Pott must be mentioned for her stellar performance. She moved in ways that repudiated the laws of human anatomy, her body seemed devoid of bones, she became an object of infused energy, heedless of the strictures of nature, her dancing was filled with vitality and breath. Ms. Pott was mesmerizing… brava and brava again…

The Rite of Spring, in its 30th Anniversary, is just as strong today as when it premiere in 1984. The formalized use of body and the strict use of patterns to move the dancers across the that had seemed out of date in Appalachian Spring, was the perfect juxtaposition needed for the controlled chaos that is the Stravinsky score.

Martha Graham Dance Company’s in Martha Graham’s “The Rite of Spring” Photo: Sinru Ku

Martha Graham Dance Company’s in Martha Graham’s “The Rite of Spring” Photo: Sinru Ku

Ben Schultz as the Shaman towered over the lesser mortals, majestic and commanding and his tattoos complemented the sense of paganism that was seen. As the Chosen One, Xiaochuan Xie, with her hands bound, tenses her body with terror, knowing all to well her destiny.

The women are almost secondary, accepting a more submissive role within this male-dominated society. The enter and exit the stage, conscientious of what is occurring and all too aware of the role they are to play. The men, wearing  nothing but black briefs, circle the Chosen One, contracting their torsos with force showing their strength.

Ms. Graham’s Rite of Spring is primal in it’s intensity, raw emotion flows through and around the dancers. It is the sacrificial virgin, a young woman whose blood must flow to insure a bountiful harvest. It is the view of a death that gives life, her death ensures that others’ live…

 

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