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Flash Review 2, 4-27: A Graham Primer
The Many Masks of Martha

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2004 Gus Solomons jr

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NEW YORK -- Like Program A, Program C of the Martha Graham Dance Company in its two-week City Center season, seen April 21, also closed with "Sketches from Chronicle," a sure winner; "Chronicle" could become for the Graham Company what "Revelations" has become for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater -- its "sine qua non."

The first section of the program comprised three dances that reveal, respectively, Graham's comic, tragic, and mythic personae. "Satyric Festival Song" (1932), inspired by Native American Pueblo culture, was reconstructed in 1994 by Diane Gray and Janet Eilber, mostly from photos by Barbara Morgan, who chronicled Graham's work in her famous 1942 book. In a green and black striped jersey dress designed by Graham, Blakeley White-McGuire whipped her red hair, grimaced, and jutted her hips in her witty interpretation of the light-hearted solo, which parodies Pueblo clowns. Graham's signature contraction had not yet become the hallmark of her style. Music for the reconstruction was Fernando Palacios's "Minuta perversa," played on solo flute by Elizabeth Mann.

According to legend, Graham modeled her comic timing on that of the great British comedienne Beatrice Lilly and her tragic performing sensibility on the style of great stage actress Katherine Cornell. "Deep Song" (1937) distills the essence of anguish of bereaved women in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. Black and white vertical panels elongated the front of Alessandra Prosperi's compact body in the Graham-designed long, full-skirted dress. She sat on a long white bench, contracted deeply and stretched her legs wide in a vivid evocation of grief and contained rage. Prosperi let the movement tell the tale without gratuitous grimacing -- often difficult in Graham's work, because the physicality of the movement generates such deep feeling dancers have trouble not contorting their faces. Henry Cowell's "Sinister Resonance," for prepared piano played by Patrick Daugherty, amplified the mood.

In "Errand into the Maze" (1947) a woman journeys into "the maze of the heart's darkness" along a rope that snakes along the floor between two sculptural pieces by Isamu Noguchi. She battles -- and, of course, conquers -- the "Creature of Fear," represented by the mythic Minotaur. Elizabeth Auclair as the heroine fiercely crisscrossed her feet over the rope, never touching it. Martin Lofsnes as the Minotaur carried a staff, like a yoke across his shoulders, his arms hooked around it, and wore a double ram's horn across his brow, adding to the difficulty of the balances and falls he had to do. Both danced with flawless musicality and technical precision to Gian Carlo Menotti's gripping score.

In the performance of "Circe," several of the cast were making New York debuts: Tadej Brdnik was a more youthful, impetuous Jason than Kenneth Topping; Gary Galbraith as Helmsman had to make technical modifications and wavered in some transitions; Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch as Circe needed more leg strength to move her more cleanly through space. (The role was created for the divine Mary Hinkson, who was in the audience.) Christophe Jeannot made a strong debut as the Snake, as did Gelan Lambert, Jr as the Deer, and Whitney Hunter as the Lion. Maurizio Nardi shone in a riveting portrayal of the Goat, all angular and sinewy.

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