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This Spring's Dance Insider coverage of Martha Graham is also sponsored by Nancy Reynolds, Doug Frank, Nora Ambrosio and Slippery Rock University, Karen Bradley, Barry Fischer and Frostburg State University, the Arts Paper, Scott Killian, Sharon Montella and Pine Manor College, Toba Singer, Esaias Johnson, Alice Helpern, and several anonymous donors. And by Karen Potter, Kelly Holt, and by the MFA students, faculty and Friends of Dance at Case Western Reserve University, where dancers receive professional level training in a conservatory setting, and who are are proud to support the Dance Insider's coverage of the Martha Graham Dance Company. To find out about becoming a DI sponsor, e-mail paul@danceinsider.com.

Flash Preview, 5-9: Beyond Dispute
The Real Owners of Martha Graham Take the Stage

By Nicole Pope
Copyright 2002 Nicole Pope

BENNINGTON, Vermont -- In high school I was told that Martha Graham was the "Mother of Modern Dance." I was shown a video of her classic "Lamentations." That was proof enough for me. The mere mention of Martha Graham's name is what made me decide to attend Bennington College, where Graham was a member of the founding faculty of the summer dance program launched by Martha Hill. Now, I eat dinner one floor below Graham's old studio, which is filled with musical instruments, dusty and unused, and closed off because it is considered a fire hazard. But with the aid of old photographs taken during Graham's time here, I have stepped inside the studio and imagined a scene here.

I imagined Martha Graham conducting morning Technique to Stuart Hodes and Merce Cunningham, or choreographing "Letter to the World" in a long black dress, her hair pulled back, her lips stern. I have seen pictures of her and her dancers on what we at Bennington call "The End of the World": a large, stretching expanse of grass that seems to suddenly drop off to nothing. The dancers are frozen in contractions, palms lifted towards the sky. These black and white photographs seem to come from a history as far from me as the dancing of Marie Taglioni, or the reign of King Louis XIV, for that matter. But the truth is that Martha Graham passed away a little over ten years ago, and I feel as though I have just missed her. It is for this for reason that I am grateful for the work of Graham principal Terese Capucilli, and others like her, who make daily, weekly and yearly attempts at maintaining the legacy that Graham began 76 years ago. Because of their work, Graham's dances and her life's work will continue to emanate beyond the stage and beyond the dance world.

I interviewed the busy, frizzled-haired Capucilli in April as she and co-artistic coordinator Christine Dakin were preparing the Martha Graham Dance Company for its first performance in two years, tonight at New York City Center. We discussed what she felt her work teaching Graham technique and repertoire was really about.

"We're not trying to mummify her work," Capucilli was quick to explain. "The only way to continue breathing life into 'Appalachian Spring' and 'Night Journey' when new dancers step into the roles of The Wife or Tiresias is to allow them to discover what makes them resonate as individuals in a certain role." Capucilli recounted the process Graham put her dancers through in order to find that individuality for themselves: "She did not impress her notions of the pieces and roles onto her dancers. She expected you to find (the role) yourself." To do so took a certain amount of questioning, but it began with questioning oneself and delving deeper, so that the dance became a life practice in which, Capucilli said, one eventually finds a truth. If this truth proved elusive, she added, "you felt at any moment she could growl at you," like a tiger. "But at the same time, she could be gentle."

In the work she does today, Capucilli gives these same freedoms to the dancers: the freedom of individuality, the freedom to question the dance, and the freedom to question themselves and their roles in order to find truth. These freedoms, she said, come from the discipline on which Martha Graham founded her process. Work begins in the studio and in mastering the body. It begins with understanding that a contraction is more than the compressing of stomach muscles. "All movement," Capucilli said, "is for the purpose of facilitating a deeper physicality in order to create a resonance in the space. Everything moves to connect physically." Capucilli likened this process to the child's in learning a language. He or she begins with a word and a repetition of that word, then others are added until the child can make a phrase. Eventually with those phrases children can emote love, anger and joy.

In her classes, Capucilli said, she works in a highly sensual realm. She reminds dancers of the blood flowing through their veins, the warmth of their skin, the physicality beyond their limbs and their relationship to the space. She does so to remind them that they are alive in each moment, each movement, and in between. She asks them to "move with love, with the world and the people around them." She argues that this practice of sensitivity towards the body, the self, others and the world should not only happen in the studio, but integral to the dancer's life. It should become as habitual as remembering how to get home. In this way, said Capucilli, a dancer can create a life of intense awareness that will allow them to make the connection between "the physical being and a dramatic thought." The dancers recognize a connection between the compressing of stomach muscles and the expression or sorrow or torment.

Graham once said of Capucilli, "What Terese has is very rare and very wonderful. It's a matter of her musical timing. As a dancer, you must not follow the music, you are the music. It's an emanation of your body." Capucilli attributes her sense of musicality to being brought up constantly surrounded by the piano playing of her father, who was involved in musical theater in Syracuse, New York. She remembers taking her first dance lessons once a week in the basement of a church, but her modern training only began when she attended the BFA program at SUNY Purchase in 1974. The first time she saw Graham's company perform was in 1975, with a program includiing "Lamentations" and "Cave of the Heart." At SUNY Purchase, Capucilli took Limon technique, ballet and Graham technique, as taught by Carol Fried and Kazuko Hirasayashi. In 1978 she was offered a scholarship to study at the Martha Graham Center, and the following year she was invited to join the company.

What initially compelled her about the work, Capucilli said, was that it was something she had never experienced. She was drawn, she added, to "the challenge and the constant practice of taking technique into the body so you can use it."

Beyond the physical practice, Capucilli was intrigued by the incredible heroines on whose stories Graham based many of her dances, the women who came out of the classic world of Greek literature and myth, Emily Dickinson, and the Brontes. Graham herself, Capucilli pointed out, did not perform many of these roles until she was in her mid-thirties. "They require a maturity," Capucilli said, which still challenges her. There is always more to learn about the roles and more to bring to them as she gains more life experience.

Immersing myself in the activities of the Graham Center on a recent weekend in New York, I got the feeling that there was not a single person who did not love what they were a part of. To an average "Joe" on the street, every single person there might have seemed obsessed with the Graham mission. Given the remarkable kind of woman whose legacy they are working to sustain, there is no other way to be.

"Martha began a lineage in 1926," said Capucilli. It is a lineage of which every Graham dancer up to and including the present generation has become a part of. To prepare for tonight's performance, the company has brought in a large number of past interpreters of roles in "Seraphic Dialogue," "Night Journey," and "Embattled Garden." Jacqulyn Buglisi, Carol Fried, Ellen Graff, Linda Hodes, Stuart Hodes, Pearl Lang, Peter London, Susan McGuire, Bertram Ross, Ethel Winter and Yuriko nurture a new generation by rehearsing and coaching the dancers performing this evening. "They each have an essence of what Martha gave them," said Capucilli. She began to make large circular patterns with her hands, moving them from her heart, out to me and back to herself, as she concluded, "As long as the passing on of love continues, Martha's spirit can be here."

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