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Flash Tragedy, 4-1: Alas, poor Martha
We knew her, Horatio; until Janet got through connecting her to today's audiences

By I.M. Joshin
Copyright 2010 I.M. Joshin

News item: Of the 11 works to be presented by the Martha Graham Dance Company for its next New York season, three are by Martha Graham, the rest including "American Document" -- not the Graham classic, but a new work... by non-dancers.

For Martha Graham, who died this day in 1991... and is dying more every day.

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, April 1 -- The Royal Shakespeare Company today announced a 2010 season headlined by "Hamlet" -- not the one by Shakespeare that's resonated with people for 400 years, but a premiere by drag artist Richard the Third Move. "Shakespeare was all right but he's dated," said RSC director Janet Isle-Brrrrrr, "So I decided the best way to keep him relevant to today's audiences was not to actually perform his classic in the version he wrote, but to commission a dance of the same name by someone who's actually still alive." The season will close with "Romeo & Juliets," which Isle-Brrrrrr described as "a brand new reality television tragedy in which at the end of each episode, the audience gets to vote a Juliet out until we all take the potion."

Isle-Brrrrrr was until recently director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, where she became known for replacing dances by Graham, who invented a new language with dance, with works by non-choreographers, who replaced dance with words. "Why dance when you can talk?" explained Isle-Brrrrrr, who also replaced works by the mother of modern dance with works by winners of the popular television show, "So you think you can choreograph?," often with the same names as the Graham originals. "Why give audiences dances by someone who's dead, when one can be relevant by giving them dances with the same names but by young dancers who they saw on television last night!?" she said. When a reporter pointed out that like Shakespeare, Graham's themes are in and of themselves timeless and thus eternally relevant, and have moved people for over 80 years without need of any altering or 'modernizing,' Isle-Brrrrrr sniffed, "Yes, but if we just performed dances by Graham, how could I take credit for anything? Her legacy might be intact but what would become of mine?" On a previous occasion, when some protested her decision to have Graham's "Clytemnestra" performed with the addition of sub-titles, pointing out that one of Graham's greatest accomplishments was to show dance has its own self-sufficient eloquent language, with no need of the interpolation of words, she harumphed, "Yes, but that would require audiences to exercise too much imagination."

Isle-Brrrrrr's first season directing the RSC also includes "Lamentable Variations," with versions of "King Lear" and "Macbeth" by British high school students; "A Middling Night's Dream," scripted by a slightly pickled bloke she met the other day at the pub; "Othello," in the rarely seen 10-minute extended play version of the Michael Jackson single from "Bad"; "The Merchant of Venice Beach," "by my own personal trainer"; and 10 other works, including one by William Shakespeare himself.

Isle-Brrrrrr leaves the RSC next year to take over the Athens National Theater, where her plans include mounting "Oedipus" -- not the one by Sophocles but a new play by Mr. T in which the author himself surges onstage after the hero has gouged his eyes out and exclaims, "I pity the fool!" Never mind that the the line destroys the play's essential and timeless catharsis. "It's more important to make it relevant," Isle Brrrrrr pointedly pointed out.


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