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Flash Review 1, 8-18: Keeping Martha's Spirit Alive
Graham Dancers Without Graham Dances

By Nolini Barretto
Copyright 2000 Nolini Barretto

This is not really a review, just as the free performance at Union Square Park Wednesday by the dancers of the Martha Graham Dance Company was not so much a concert as it was a statement of the dancers' position, and a celebration of their unity. Fourteen dancers and seven choreographers from the Graham Company and Ensemble presented their own work to a large and enthusiastic audience of dancers, students, board members, Graham supporters, curiosity seekers and random Union Square wanderers.

Tadej Brdnik, Graham Company member and the curator for the evening's performances said the idea and impetus for the concert was not political. However, the title of the evening ("Keeping the Channels Open"), and the opening statement on the program ("We, the dancers of the Martha Graham Dance Company, are determined to continue to do what we know and love best -- dancing. This performance is an act of faith for each of us. It represents our collective effort to build a future, in spite of the fact that we have lost our artistic home, are without studio space and lack financial support"), clearly suggests otherwise.

The audience was there to support the dancers and to happily meet and greet Graham people they hadn't seen in years. I must confess that I was one of them -- I knew all the dancers on that stage, and many of the ones sitting on the damp grass that evening. It was worth the muddy discomfort, and like the rest of the audience, I am glad the dancers are finding their voice.

For those of you who still want to know about the performance, the bodies were magnificent, the dancing ferocious, and the choreography -- umm, lets say it was uneven. Not all the Graham dancers make good choreographers. And, with no lights (6 p.m. showtime), no wings, a mediocre sound system and little or no prior rehearsal, the circumstances in which the works were presented were admittedly less than perfect.

Nonetheless, a few pieces managed to leave a favorable impression on this viewer. Jacqulyn Buglisi's 1988 dance, "Sospiri," reminded everyone there why they love Graham work. The tragic love story was a strong and tender theatrical piece, rooted in the Graham movement tradition. It was made that much fiercer by the electric intensity between dancers Virginie Mecene and Kevin Predmore. Kun-Yang Lin's excerpt from his "Land of Lost Content" was one of the most individual voices amongst the dancer/choreographers. It reflected Lin's personal cultural baggage while acknowledging Graham's influence in its sense of formality, weightedness and attack. And did so without having to recourse to familiar Graham gestures and movement vocabulary. It was danced with intensity by Lin, Brdnik, Mecene, Jennifer Binford, Gary Galbraith, and Nai-Yu Kuo.

In other pieces, Erica Dankmeyer, Kathleen Crockett and Alessandra Prosperi danced with consummate strength and abandon, gobbling up the stage space in huge, thirsty gulps. Some of the choreography in those and other pieces was inevitably derived from the Graham vocabulary. It's tough -- these dancers have trained for years to perfect Graham's particular movement logic. They ache to perform in the way their bodies have been trained to do. If, due to current circumstances, they are unable to do so, can you completely blame them if they make work that resonates with Grahamisms? The Union Square Park audience did not think so.

The concert also included Javier Dzul's "Y'ltz Ka'anil, " Errol Grimes's "As I Lay Lying," Gary Galbraith and Karen Potter's "The Burghers of Calais," Erica Dankmeyer's "Forest Incantation," and Buglisi's "Red Hills."


Nolini Barretto is the former administrative director of the Graham school. She is currently marketing and public relations director of Dance Theater Workshop.

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