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Flash News & Analysis, 10-24: Graham Moves
New Artistic Directors, New Money, and Season Repertoire Announced

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

For the first time since the death of Martha Graham in 1991, the Martha Graham Dance Company will be directed by dancers, veteran principals Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin, a company spokesman said this week. The company also announced a $1.5 million challenge grant from its board, including $1 million from Delores Barr Weaver, and the repertoire for its first season in nearly three years, a line-up spanning more than 60 years of Graham work demonstrating the sheer breadth of her choreographic canvas.

Capucilli and Dakin, both personally nurtured by Graham, were in many ways the company's rocks during the near-decade it toiled under the directorship of non-dancer Ronald Protas, who in the last year lost his federal court claims to ownership of most of Graham's dances and the trademarks to her name and technique. Made associate artistic directors during Protas's final years in charge, they acted as co-artistic coordinators, while continuing to lead the company on stage as well, during its May one-night stand at City Center.

As the company's new co-artistic directors, said Graham Center executive director Marvin Preston, Capucilli and Dakin bring "50 years of performance experience with the Martha Graham Dance Company, much of it under the direct tutelage of Martha Graham herself. They are extraordinarily capable of articulating and demonstrating their rich understanding of, insight into, and know-how of Martha Graham's technique. They work well together. Their styles and personalities are wonderfully complementary. They have the unique ability to assure that the know-how associated with each of Martha Graham's dances is preserved with artistic integrity and passed on to the next generation of Martha Graham dancers. This is their time."

For their first season as artistic directors -- excepting a one-night City Center engagement last spring, the first since the Graham company suspended operations in May 2000 -- Capucilli and Dakin have planned a program that ranges from the 1929 "Heretic" to the 1990 "Maple Leaf Rag." The season, which runs January 22 to February 2 at the Joyce Theater in New York, will be preceded by a gala preview January 21. With tickets priced from $250 to $2,500, the gala and other development activities are critical as the Graham infrastructure moves to rebuild after a two-year period of uncertainty about its future which made fundraising challenging. No doubt with the ambitious season as well as the return of the Graham School by the end of the year to its historic headquarters at 316 E. 63rd Street in mind, the center's board of trustees has committed $1.5 million to a challenge grant.

The work planned for the Joyce seems designed to showcase the great range of Graham's dance subjects. It includes the 1935 "Frontier," of which the New York Herald Tribune's Edwin Denby wrote on May 11, 1944 (Graham's 50th birthday): "Here again it is in her stationary poses that (Graham) is able in the thrust of the neck to give an extraordinary sense of enormous space around her. 'Frontier' is incidentally an answer to those critics of modern dancing who claim it is technically too easy; 'Frontier' is certainly technically one of the most difficult dances anybody ahas ever attempted."

Like the upcoming Joyce season, that evening at the National Theater also included the 1937 "Deep Song," an homage to Republican Spain which, wrote Denby, is "technically an extremely interesting derivation from Spanish flamenco dancing, from the carriage and rhythm of it -- but it is a completely original and personal dance form that Miss Graham has evolved."

The Joyce program will also feature the sets Isamu Noguchi designed for many of the works. For "Frontier," Noguchi (quoted in Agnes de Mille's "Martha") once explained: "I used a rope, nothing else. It's not the rope that is the sculpture, but it is the space which it creates that is the sculpture. It is an illusion of space. It is not flat like a painting used as a backdrop. It is a three-dimensional perspective. It bisects the theater space. Therefore, it creates the whole box into a spatial concept. And it is in that spatial concept that Martha moves and creates her dances. In that sense, Martha is a sculptor herself."

Graham also chiselled away at the psyche, framing in dance her perspective on the mental maze -- often at great personal cost. The New York season will also include the 1946 "Dark Meadow," with characters like "One Who Seeks," a role originated by Graham; "He Who Summons," originated by Erick Hawkins, Graham's real-life lover; an "Earth Mother" modelled after Persephone; and "They Who Dance Together," played by the corps. "The chorus," writes de Mille, "made an emotional background and intensified all the phases of Martha's passage towards self-realization and power..... At the end, Martha, the heroine, finds herself alone, and Noguchi's strange, phalliclike cactus form at the back of the stage bursts into flower, or rather buds out in Noguchi's blooms. It was a dance of sacrifice in which the artist strips herself of everything to achieve her fulfillment.

Of an early performance, de Mille recounts:

"I took a psychoanalyst, Florence Powdermaker, to a performance, and she sat at the end with tears streaming down her cheeks, her head in her hands, and said, 'Oh, unnecessary, unneeded! This is not the price. Is there no one who can teach Martha this? She does not need to give her life for perception. The suffering! The suffering!'"

These days, a new generation of Graham dancers -- some trained by her, others at her school -- are giving over their bodies and souls so that the Graham oeuvre can continue to augment our perception. For two years, that devotion has largely been one of pure faith, as the dancers waited for lawyers to resolve whether they would ever be able to give their dancing lives to Martha again. When the curtain rises January 22, that faith will be rewarded, as will be the patience of Graham's existing audience and the curiosity of would-be new initiates, including 600 public school children who will be able to see a performance.

Said Capucilli and Dakin, in a joint statement: "This season at the Joyce gives the audience an opportunity to see these works as Martha originally performed them: in an intimate space, with live chamber music. The depth and beauty of Martha's work is seen through her dancers -- the core of whom were chosen by her and worked with her for decades. The newest dancers are young, exciting talents, trained at her school, and they are burning with the passion for this extraordinary repertory. They will be the next generation to bring Martha's dances to new audiences."

Also on the bill for the Joyce audience: "Lamentation" (1930), "Satyric Festival Song" (1932), "Chronicle" (1936), "El Penitente" (1940), "Errand into the Maze" (1947), "Night Journey" (1947), "Diversion of Angels" (1948), "Embattled Garden" (1958), and "Phaedra" (1962).

Paul Ben-Itzak is The Dance Insider's editor and CEO. He swears he did not have to put his hand on a rock before writing this story. E-mail paul by clicking here.

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