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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,
1, 5-10: Indisputably Martha
Graham Company Rises From the Embattled Garden
By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2002 Tom Patrick
NEW YORK -- Wow, what an event this
My first dance teacher in college,
trying to impart some sense in me regarding the studio-to-stage transition, told
me to dance a piece as if it were the first time, with all that life of a spontaneous
act, and as if it were the last time, to be savored and honored. In a long-overdue
return to the stage, the Martha Graham Dance Company lived on that razor's edge
last night at City Center, for a fantastically rich two-and-a-half hours that
was over all too soon.
I mean, it's not as if there were
empty seats at prior Graham seasons I'd attended, but for last night's "Indisputably
Martha Graham" program there was not only a full-to-the-doors audience, but a
very eager, very committed, very invested family. Big-time patrons, board members,
students, and press were there, and so were other prominent choreographers and
many many stellar and involved alumni of the Clan Graham. Graham; its investments
past and current are truly incalculable, in light of the past year's, um, trials.
Last night's performance was a triumph: a host of resilient and resourceful people
providing a chance for Martha and our hearts to have their own little sidebar,
to celebrate those vital and irreplaceable acts of light.
As the lights went down before "Seraphic
Dialogue," you could taste the excitement, feel the tone that this rising curtain
was extra special. The ovations started high in the mezzanine and balcony, showered
down on the stage like sunshine, and shone for a long minute while the cast was
arrested in its opening tableau; how they must've been aching to start!
Choreographed in 1955, "Seraphic
Dialogue" tells the story of Joan of Arc. Graham set it as a fast-forward glimpse
of earthly life before Joan's merging with God. Terese Capucilli played Joan last
night, adding layers of dramatic observation to miles of articulation. In a series
of solo reflections and reactions to her life's stages, Capucilli is amazing,
all deft musicality and in the grip of real passion. The wonderful thing is that
Martha Graham could seize upon the big things, the big people in our history and
our legends and lend an empathic swerve to their stories -- a sympathy for the
singular and formidable -- and shape dances and roles from them that are enduring
and living works of art.
Within Isamu Noguchi's quivering
brass cathedral, Kenneth Topping as a solid and iconic Saint Michael is flanked
in his triptych by Saints Catherine and Margaret (Catherine Lutton and Heidi Stoeckley),
who reveal the eras de Joan by removing in turn the robes -- Graham was surely
keen on the relationship of ritual or ceremony and dance -- of Joan as Maid (Virginie
Mecene,) as Warrior (Alessandra Prosperi,) and as Martyr: Elizabeth Auclair. Ms.
Mecene's solo was sunny, reaching with lovely jetes. Ms. Prosperi as an explosive
Warrior Joan was joined by Mr. Topping, the Saint moving her to rise up and fight
with a huge sword (er now it's a cross) that ingeniously disengages from the set.
Martyr Joan, Ms. Auclair, was all bravery, faith, and pain as she etched her cross-shaped
Noguchi into her chest. Topping's Saint Michael, confined as he was in his Halston
costume -- necessarily so being a saint and not a corporeal man -- was still very
articulate and strong.
In the end the apparitions vanish
and Joan returns, now shimmering in soft gold, to take her place with the saints,
her long journey ended and her legend begun.
Following intermission brief front-of-curtain
remarks were delivered by Francis Mason, chairman of the Graham board and a champion
of the cause. He was gracious, and grateful too that this night had come about,
and as hopeful as we were that there would be many more like it.
'Conversation of Lovers' is a duet
for man and woman, part of the larger work "Acts of Light" (Graham circa 1981),
and is indicative of a more three-dimensional and compositionally varied mode
than "Seraphic Dialogue." Katherine Crockett and Martin Lofsnes portrayed the
beautiful long-limbed lovers, responding to irresistible magnetism despite its
many complex shadings. They are ecstatic, uneasy, and transfixed in turn, in passages
of beautiful lyricism. They are clad in red fall-away costumes (Halston after
Graham) that manage simultaneously to be Apollonian and Dionysean, in keeping
with the multi-level take on the intricacies of love. There is enough shadow to
this duet to avoid any hint of stereotype, and make it instead more of a glimpse
of something real.
Taking this from the micro- to the
macro- was 1958's "Embattled Garden," which compounds the complications, putting
the couple-scenario into the company of others, and thus there is immediate drama.
Adam and Eve (Tadej Brdnik and Miki Orihara) are anything but alone in this Eden,
which is charged with original erotic impulses and the interpersonal tensions
arising from wayward thoughts and acts. The Stranger (the terrific Christophe
Jeannot) and Lilith (Ms. Auclair again here, as Adam's first wife) confront that
darned free-will issue, through very persuasive seduction, and Adam and Eve's
world is forever shaken. The issues of trust and lust are here, jumping out of
Genesis into the modern day, another example of that synthesis Martha Graham performed
with our legends and our lives. The atmosphere of the piece has a tinge of the
Mediterranean about it, in the bright colors of the set - Noguchi's quivering
metal garden and the climbable tree -- and I swear I heard a little quote from
Ravel's "Bolero" in the Surinach score. Here again, Graham has chosen music (this
specially commissioned for her) that is orchestral in scope, with all tonal ranges
used. No complaint here, but I noticed that all of the works tonight were similarly
large-scale musically -- a metaphor maybe, or a parallel to the large range of
dance skills necessary to interpret her work.
And speaking of epic: "Night Journey,"
the 1947 powerful and typically complex examination of the Oedipus legend, is
told from Jocasta's point of view. No small feat to re-read those myths, but Graham
seemed to tackle them hungrily, determined to show historical women as more complex
than we'd read, peeling away layer upon layer of psychology and exposing their
many motives. The blind seer Tiresias (great work here by Gary Galbraith) begins,
telling the truth that is unwelcome and inevitable, and immediately an atmosphere
of uncertainty and danger prevails; Noguchi's set looks purposely drab and full
of incongruous pieces, unharmonious. Luminous Graham veteran Christine Dakin as
Jocasta and Mr. Topping as her Oedipus were magnificent, navigating this myth
to its very bitter end with great mastery. The power of these dances and these
artists blew me away as they collided on their destinies. Awash in the threats
that their deeds would break through to crush them, these three central characters
were buttressed by Ms. Prosperi as Leader of the Chorus, and the Daughters of
the Night, a female sextet used to great effect. (Ms. Auclair, Erica Dankmeyer,
Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, Ms. Mecene, Ms. Orihara, and Yuko Suzuki.)
Closing this landmark program was
the perfectly appropriate 'Steps in the Street.' Originally seen in 1936 as part
of "Chronicle" and once thought lost forever, this work has been through an archaeological-grade
reconstruction and emerges now still so powerful, depicting the disarray, the
unfairness, and the struggles in the aftermath of some catastrophe. Beginning
in uncertain silence, the cast of women in black backs around the stage, almost
wanderers. Tautly held, they are on their guard; weary from some force, they seem
brimming with pent-up feeling. Wallingford Riegger's score does in time come crashing
down: declamatory orchestra chords and pounding rhythms on the piano tell us that
the hunger is awake again, and it drives the group into tense and tight unison
passages. Ms. Orihara (who also oversaw rehearsals) danced bravely as the central
figure, as music and Martha drove the ensemble into aggressive subgroups. Their
controlled boiling was intense to witness, and naturally they were throwing down
some fierce floorwork and flawless unison passages. 'Steps' ends with the group
dancers streaming off stage left, and their passing repeatedly buffets Ms. Orihara,
who -- like Martha, and like Martha's company -- bends but does not fall, a lone
figure facing the 'other' way, who refuses to give up or give in. Appearing with
Ms. Orihara were students of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and
members of the Martha Graham Dance Ensemble: Kim Jones, Blakely White-McGuire,
Laureve Blackstone, Nya Bowman, Jennifer Conley, Jessica Delia, Ms. Ellmore-Tallitsch,
Jennifer Emerson, Catherine Lutton, Brenda Nieto, Ms. Stoeckley, and Ms. Suzuki.
Kudos to you all!
A thrilling night indeed at City
Center, as Martha Graham's company declares that it's back, and that Graham's
"imperishable" (in Mr. Mason's words) works of art are alive, well, and being
carefully and lovingly tended in this recently embattled garden. The dancing was
glorious and filled with heart and the eagerness of life.
Now then: Let's hope that the Graham
ticket stub I have that says "One Night Only" will forevermore be out of print.
(Editor's Note: To read how Graham
dancers past and present, board members, lawyers, and others felt about last night's
event, please click here.)
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