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Flash Review 1, 10-6:
Major Schools to the Rescue of Graham Students
By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2000 Darrah Carr
The air at the Cunningham
Studio was heavy with history last night as we gathered to support
the temporarily displaced students of the Martha Graham School,
which closed last spring when the company's board suspended operations.
(See Flash Report, 5-27: Graham in Turmoil.)
An organization called "The Emergency Fund for Student Dancers"
presented the benefit concert, "Continue the Legacy," which turned
out to be a collection of well-crafted choreography that was also
beautifully executed. For the past ten years, EFSD has done the
important work of providing financial support to dance students
in need, raising over $25,000 toward that cause. This weekend's
proceeds will enable former Graham students to continue their training
until their home base is re-opened.
What was particularly
heartwarming about last night's concert, however, was that it was
not just Graham aficionados supporting Graham students. EFSD is
a consortium of multiple major dance institutions including: The
Ailey School, Merce Cunningham Studio, the School of Dance Theatre
of Harlem, Limon Institute, and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary
Dance (founding members also included the Erick Hawkins School,
Laban-Bartenieff Institute, and the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab). For
a dance world that is so often divided among separate schools of
thought, aesthetic values, and training techniques, EFSD provides
a wonderful sense of unity. The concert featured either faculty,
students, or company members from each of these institutions. Needless
to say, it was quite a diverse and enjoyable evening. How often
does one have the chance to see Cunningham's rep right next to Ailey's
The evening opened with
a duet choreographed and performed by Adam Houghland and Amber Merkens,
both dancers with the Jose Limon Company. It was a well-rehearsed
piece, as evidenced by moments of perfect unison movement, as they
cut through space with clean, sharp lines. Their partnering seemed
playful, though Bartok's score was driving and somewhat angst-ridden.
At times Houghland would lift Merkens, then lay her down gently.
She'd remain frozen in a sort of space hold, and he'd return a while
later to reclaim her.
Arthur Aviles choreographed
"Pichon: (a ritual dance of fire)," a compelling piece that was
well performed by Eng Kian Ooi, a scholarship student at the Merce
Cunningham Studio. Lying on his back, in the middle of a bright
red circle of fabric, Ooi deftly rippled and interlaced his outstretched
arms into a vision of flame. As the score repeated "The world turns
round and round," he spun too, cutting through the circle on opposing
diagonals, and stopping at one point to flawlessly execute a slow
arabesque promenade in the center.
"Excerpts from Premonitions"
was choreographed by Marianne Bachmann, former faculty member and
director of the Martha Graham School, and performed by Kenneth Topping
and Rika Okamoto, courtesy of the Martha Graham Dance Company and
School. I mention these titles only because the concert was aptly
named "Continue the Legacy," and this trio seemed to be the manifestation
of that -- faculty member, longtime company member, and younger
dancer working together despite the unfortunate situation currently
facing the Graham institution. The choreography was infused with
Graham's legacy as well. I recognized several trademarks of the
Graham technique: cupped hands, hinges to the floor, jumps in place.
It was like meeting a daughter and noticing that she has her mother's
smile. At the same time, Bachmann definitely revealed her own choreographic
style. Her dancers moved with a feline grace. There was a softness
to their turns and an alert anticipation as they circled each other.
The ending image was both tender and striking. Topping held Okamoto
suspended in a flying angel, until she gently somersaulted over
him, and ended up lying on the floor -- her head touching his, their
backs to us.
Next on the program came
"Interludes," a piece performed by Tiffany Glenn, William Smith,
Ebony Haswell, and Akua Parker of the School of Dance Theatre of
Harlem. Choreographed by Glenn, the quartet was set to Bach's "Brandenburg
Concerto No.1." I always admire a choreographer who tackles a score
as complex as Bach's, and Glenn did an excellent job, creating charming
variations in cannon and unison, with well crafted solo moments
for each performer. The dancers themselves were very engaging, displaying
impressive technique in an effortless manner.
"Dark Night," a highly dramatic, somewhat disturbing, narrative
piece, concerning a man who is followed by and then attacked by
two other men. Topping created an intriguing blend of pedestrian
movement, emotional content, and highly physicalized dance. The
ending image was particularly haunting -- the victim was carried
upstage, with an attacker holding each of his arms, his head thrown
back, and his bare chest heaving and glistening in the light.
The last two pieces on
the program were choreographed by Merce Cunningham and Alvin Ailey
respectively. Certainly much has already been written about these
two choreographers. I will merely add that the pieces were, of course,
extremely well crafted. I would also, however, like to congratulate
the students who performed them. Shih-Linh Hsu gave a flawless performance
of solos from "Un Jour ou Deux," demonstrating her command of Cunningham's
rapidly flying feet and quickly tilting torso shifts. Cheryl Madson,
John Avant III, and Holly Hyman gave an impassioned delivery of
Ailey's classic "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" from Revelations."
These three students from the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University BFA
program charged through Ailey's rhythmic choreography and left me
wanting to see more.
Indeed, all of the students
and professionals presented on tonight's concert are following in
and dancing with the footsteps of the modern dance giants with grace,
skill, and ease. The air was heavy with history, but it was also
bursting with promise.
"Continue the Legacy"
repeats tonight at 9 p.m. and tomorrow night at 8 p.m. at the Cunningham
Studio. For info and reservations, please call 212-924-0077.
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