featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review , 11-21: Errand Out of the Maze

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2003 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- While London is less than enthusiastic about George Bush's visit this week, it was a different story for the Martha Graham Dance Company. People flocked into the historic Sadler's Wells theater Wednesday from the tense atmosphere on the streets to lose themselves in Martha Graham's renowned emotional landscapes. Graham had a huge influence on dance in the UK and directly inspired the founding of London Contemporary Dance School in the 1960s, so her work has a very special place in the hearts of London dance as well as non-dance audiences. After all the company's trials and tribulations of recent years, it was heartening to see the dancers looking fresh and strong as they took us on a journey back into dance history.

During this second program, which included "Appalachian Spring"(1944), "Deep Song" (1937), "Satyrical Festival Song" (1932), "Lamentation" (1930), "Heretic" (1929), "Errand into the Maze" (1947) and "Maple Leaf Rag"(1990), the audience laughed, cheered or sung along to the music. Appreciation was given in buckets for this eclectic, full program, which provided the Graham novice with a tour round the terrain of her work.

I always feel that Graham's work is best seen in the form of her solos, and when its content is emotionally tortured rather than light. This was true Wednesday as well, although the very stylized "Maple Leaf Rag," a group work, had some fascinating moments. The magnificent, statuesque Katherine Crockett adds a surreal Felliniesque quality to the light-hearted dance banter, as she purposefully and repeatedly swirls across the stage. The 'comic' "Satyrical Festival Song" is an interesting reminder of '30s European parody dance with its exaggerated mime-like aesthetics, and is sharply performed by the theatrical Blakeley White-McGuire.

Outstanding performances were given by the artistic directors, Christine Dakin in "Deep Song" and "Terese Capucilli" in Heretic. I couldn't help feeling that they really embodied the intensity of Graham's inner turmoil in their mature experienced bodies. Nothing can be 'faked' in Graham's language and it is very hard to reconstruct the fears and psychological demons that possessed the choreographer herself and which fueled so much of her work. Dakin clinging onto a stark bench in absurd but genuine desperation and lying underneath it rigid in a famous Graham contraction presents an extreme image of suffering, while Capucilli conveys a gut-wrenching angst in her movement. With the chorus of black-clad women flanking her flailing movements, together they recall the raw expressionism of German choreographer Mary Wigman.

Another influence in Graham's work and one that she conveyed well was Greek Myth. "Errand into the Maze" is loosely based on the story of Ariadne and the Minotaur, but the stronger subtext is one of a woman conquering her sexual fears. The stage sculptures by Isamu Noguchi are as famous as the 'primitive' costume of the Minotaur, which consists of horns attached by wire and held in place by the performer's teeth, and a stick across his shoulders which wedges his arms wide apart. His open, erect positions contrast dramatically with the woman's closed, defensive, caved in movement vocabulary. The woman, in this case Alessandra Prosperi meets the phallic leaping Minotaur (Christophe Jeannot), and their dance is a clinging, writhing violent portrayal of sexual and psychological struggle. Fortunately, as in most of Graham's work, girl power triumphs and the woman deals with her fear, returns to the light and regains her equilibrium after some pretty harrowing moments. The piece, together with its pounding music score by Gian Carlo Menotti is a breathtaking masterpiece, brilliantly interpreted by the dancers. Dance doesn't get more dramatic than this. In fact at times Graham's work is decidedly melodramatic, but gets away with it because it's contained within the very stylized technique.

When I was reflecting on how relevant this choreography is today, and whether it has become too much of a watered down imitation of the original, I came to the conclusion that it does still work for us in the 21st century. What is important about the Graham repertory is that it was modern dance of the 20th century, which was able to convey a deep physical reaction to key episodes of human suffering of the time, for example the Spanish Civil War and World War II. For our 21st century world, while the language and look of the work is charmingly dated, the emotional pathos is still relevant as human suffering only increases globally.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home