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The Next 90 | Martha Graham’s 90th Anniversary Season at New York City Center….

May 5, 2016
 Martha Graham Dance Company's PeiJu Chien-Pott & Ben Schultz in Mats Ek’s “AXE.” Photo: Brigid Pierce.


Martha Graham Dance Company’s PeiJu Chien-Pott & Ben Schultz in Mats Ek’s “AXE.” Photo: Brigid Pierce.

The programing for Martha Graham’s 90th Anniversary Season at New York City Center, April 14-16, 2016, with the Anniversary Gala performance on April 18th, 2016, presented a wide array dance, both new and not so new. What Janet Eilber is doing with this company is nothing short of brilliant…She is assuring the Martha Graham Dance Company, America’s oldest modern dance company, will remain one of the world’s most significant dance companies. Ms. Eilber has bravely mixed Martha Graham’s iconic ground breaking choreography with works by some of todays most in demand choreographers.

Each of the four evenings of performance began with Justin Scholar’s short film, 90 Years in 90 Seconds. The film, a total of 90 seconds, is made up of more than 200 archival images organized in decades. Every Graham dance in the film is represented by the original cast as well as the generations that followed. The newly commissioned works can be seen in the last few seconds. Simply put….it was amazing….

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Blakeley White-McGuire & Lorenzo Pagano (standing), and other dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company in Martha Graham’s “Night Journey.” Photo: Brigid Pierce.

Martha Graham Dance Company’s Blakeley White-McGuire & Lorenzo Pagano (standing), and other dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company in Martha Graham’s “Night Journey.” Photo: Brigid Pierce.

Pulling from Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Martha Graham’s 1947 masterpiece, Night Journey, takes place at the moment of Queen Jocasta’s death. The blind seer, the chorus and its leader all have witnessed and now suffer with her and then with the appearance of Oedipus, who has been discovered to be both her son and her husband…she relives her destiny. The work is rich in tragedy, a tapestry of movement woven into a song of agony and grief that utilizes both William Schuman’s score and Isamu Noguchi iconic set to its fullest.

The performance of PeiJu Chien-Potts in Night Journey was one of the most exciting performances of the anniversary season. Ms. Chien-Potts breathes a new life into the role of Queen Jocasta. She is able to give us drama, but nothing overdone or overstated. She expresses real emotion as the moments of her past come into focus. She pulls you into her performance with her…bravo, indeed!

Mats Ek’s Axe is to be his last work for the stage. Axe was originally made as a dance film for and with two venerable dancers: Ana Laguna and Yvan Auzely. The Swedish choreographer is known for his unique vision and his reinterpreting the classical repertory such as Giselle (1982) and Rite of Spring (1984). Mr. Ek’s s is noted for how he brings to the stage his fanciful storylines that blends movement with emotion into a narrative that is really not a narrative at all.

Before the curtain rises, we sit in darkness and hear thud, thud, and thud. When the curtain rises we see Ben Schultz wearing casual work clothes, using an axe to chop wood as for a fire. He is giving his total focus to chopping the wood.

Martha Graham Dance Company's PeiJu Chien-Pott & Ben Schultz in Mats Ek’s “AXE.” Photo: Brigid Pierce.

Martha Graham Dance Company’s PeiJu Chien-Pott & Ben Schultz in Mats Ek’s “AXE.” Photo: Brigid Pierce.

Ms. Chien-Potts enter the stage, moving sideways, her back to us…her body is loose and reminds me of a ragdoll in motion. Immediately the relationship between the two is evident. It is not overt but instead is known, it is a constant in both their lives.

Axe is a poetic tale of bliss, worry, confidence, uncertainty, grief and joy. Ms. Chien-Potts is exquisite as she moves about the stage; she is fluid, powerful, and expressive. There is an inner anger the man possesses, a certain powerlessness he is rebelling against that she tries to console.

Mats Ek’s Axe is the telling of a relationship, not one of fiction or fairytale. It is not analytical but more of an emotional truth. Towards the end of the piece the man stops chopping and walks over to his pile of firewood and turns to the side with his arms straight out. The woman begins to pile wood into his outstretched arms as if testing just how much he could/would carry.

When she sees he is committed to carry/accepting as much as she is willing to ply into his arms, then you see the bond between them, the two willing to share and help the other. The woman picks up the axe and follows him off stage. This is a brilliant work and bravo to all involved…I am richer for having experienced it……

 

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