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Review , 11-21: Errand Out of the Maze
GRAHAM COMPANY TAKES LONDON IN RETURN TO EUROPE
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.
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
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
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