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Martha Graham Dance Company: 80th Anniversary Gala Evening

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 18, 2006
Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU
566 LaGuardia Place (at Washington Sq South)
New York, NY 10012
212-279-4200

About the Author:

Martha Graham Dance Company: 80th Anniversary Gala Evening

Martha Graham Dance Company
80th Anniversary Gala Evening
(Graham Company Website)
At Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
New York University
(Skirball Website)

Martha Graham: Founder, Dancer, Choreographer
Executive Director, LaRue Allen
Artistic Director, Janet Eilber
Production Manager: Melissa Caolo
Music Director, Aaron Sherber
Director of School, Marnie Thomas
Artistic Gala Program Manager, Susan Kikuchi
Gala Direction, Patricia Birch
Gala Text, Jeffrey Sweet and Richard Move
Gala Lighting, Beverly Emmons

Martha Graham Dance Company: Fang-Yi Sheu, Elizabeth Auclair, Tadej Brdnik, Katherine Crockett, Gary Galbraith,
Christophe Jeannot, Martin Lofsnes, Virginie Mécène, Miki Orihara,
Alessandra Prosperi, Erica Dankmeyer, Jennifer DePalo-Rivera, Maurizio Nardi, Blakely White-McGuire, Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, Lloyd Knight, Catherine Lutton, David Martinez,
Heidi Stoeckley Nogoy, Sadira Smith, Yuko Suzuki, David Zurak

Apprentices: Kerville Jack and Oliver Tobin
Members of the Martha Graham Ensemble

Special Guests: Judith Ivey, Richard Move, Desmond Richardson
Solo Piano: Patrick Daugherty and Alan Moverman
Press: April Thibeault - AMT Public Relations

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 18, 2006


(See Graham Company Interviews, Reviews and Photos)
Program:


PRELUDE AND REVOLT: DENISHAWN TO GRAHAM
Piano: Patrick Daugherty

The Incense (1906): Choreography and Costume by Ruth St. Denis, Music by Harvey Worthington Loomis, Performed by Heidi Stoeckley Nogoy.

Gnossienne (A Priest of Knossos, 1919): Choreography by Ted Shawn, Music by Eric Satie, Performed by Tadej Brdnik.

Serenata Morisca (1916): Choreography by Ted Shawn, Reconstructed by Martha Graham, Costumes by Martha Graham after Pearl Wheeler, Music by Mario Ternghi, Lighting by Thomas Skelton, Performed by Blakeley White-McGuire.

Three Gopi Maidens (Excerpt from "The Flute of Krishna", 1926): Choreography by Martha Graham, Costumes and Sets by Norman Edwards, Music by Cyril Scott, Performed by Lloyd Knight, Jennifer DePalo-Rivera, Carrie Ellmore Tallitsch, Sadira Smith.

Heretic (1929): Choreography and Costumes by Martha graham, Music Arranged by Charles de Sivry, Lighting by Beverly Emmons, Performed by the Company.

Lamentation (1930): Choreography and Costume by Martha Graham, Music by Zoltán Kodály, Original Lighting by Martha Graham, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Katherine Crockett.

Satyric Festival Song (1932): Choreography and Costume by Martha Graham, Original Music by Imre Weisshaus, Music for Reconstruction by Fernando Palacios, Lighting for Reconstruction by David Finley, Performed by Erica Dankmeyer.

Steps in the Street (From "Chronicle: Devastation-Homelessness-Exile" 1936): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Wallingford Riegger, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Lighting for Reconstruction by David Finley, Performed by Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch and the Company.
GRAHAM WORKS: 1940-1990
Piano: Alan Moverman

El Penitente (Excerpt, 1940): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Louis Horst, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by David Zurak and Alessandra Prosperi.

Appalachian Spring ("Ballet for Martha", 1944): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Aaron Copeland, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Miki Orihara, Tadej Brdnik, Maurizio Nardi, and the Company.

Dark Meadow (Excerpt, 1946): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Carlos Chávez, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by the Company.

Clytemnestra (Excerpt-"Cassandra", 1958): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Halim El-Dabh, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Performed by Fang-Yi Sheu, Narration of "Aeschylus Text by Judith Ivey.

Part Real-Part Dream (Excerpt, 1965): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Mordecai Seter, Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Reconstruction Directed by Kenneth Topping, Performed by Desmond Richardson and Richard Move.

Piano: Alan Moverman
Maple Leaf Rag (1990): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Scott Joplin, Costumes by Calvin Klein, Lighting by David Finley, Performed by the Company.
Martha Graham, a twentieth century icon and one of the greatest dance choreographers of all time, who created 181 ballets and the "Graham Technique" of Modern Dance, who taught and inspired other great dancers and choreographers, such as Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor, Pascal Rioult, and Twyla Tharp, founded her own dance company (Martha Graham Dance Company) exactly 80 years ago tonight. She was a genius in her time, and she remains a genius in our time. Famous personalities, who performed with the Graham Company in the past were Rudolph Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Claire Bloom. Martha Graham was, and will always be, a class act.

Tonight's Gala event, organized by the Company's very new Artistic Director, Janet Eilber, was, in concept, a travesty and a tragedy. Instead of a sober re-creation of a few of Ms. Graham's most poignant and memorable works, with film clips, anecdotes, and a nice, clear photo backdrop - perhaps akin to the New York City Ballet birthday tribute to George Balanchine, with a fanfare and finale, plus a Russian vodka toast for the entire audience - the only voice we heard, as Ms. Graham's, was that of cross-dress, impersonator, Richard Move, in a variety of signature Graham dresses, even a quasi-Halston. Yes, a male impersonator, wig, et al. Martha Graham was many things, but never a joke.

Even worse, Director, Patricia Birch, writers, Jeffrey Sweet and Richard Move, and the new Artistic Director, Janet Eilber, added a clip from a Danny Kaye film, White Christmas, with an ensemble of show girls dressed as Ms. Graham, mocking the Graham technique. Just last April, the Graham Company, in dire financial straits, coming out of dire legal straits (a long saga), staged a superb 12-night run at City Center (except for the misguided Martha Clarke production), and, at that time, Artistic Directors, Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin, were still, on occasion, appearing, themselves, as impassioned dancers. Like Martha Graham, they always saw themselves as dancers, part of the Company. Now, one year later, Ms. Eilber, who lives in Los Angeles, while the diminished Company lives in New York, does not even mention Ms. Capucilli or Ms. Dakin in her written history of this program.

This almost two-hour, intermission-less program, the only Graham Company evening event for this season, actually had a great start. Mikhail Baryshnikov appeared with welcome comments, and, as always, he was gracious, humorous, and charming. He should have stayed. Judith Ivey, although not at all Grahamesque, in style, background, or dress, was the first host, and, absent extemporaneous remarks (she was not a Graham dancer, by any means), which would have added significantly to this program, she read from a script. She even read from a script, when Elizabeth Auclair was still taking bows for Heretic.

The early silent film clips and retelling of Ms. Graham's first dance and choreographic experiments, with the inclusion of an introductory dance, The Incense, danced elegantly and ethereally by Heidi Stoeckley, gave me reason to believe this would be a first-class affair. In fact, the entire first act, with two Ted Shawn works, Gnossienne (danced by Tadej Brdnik) and Serenata Morisca (danced by Blakeley White-McGuire), followed by several early Graham works, had historical interest and, as always, magnificent dancing by the entire company. Mr. Brdnik's solo was especially noteworthy in undulating exoticism.

Ms. Graham's Three Gopi Maidens was choreographed in 1926, when the Company was founded, and premiered at the 48th Street Theatre in New York. Heretic was next, and Ms. Auclair was in quintessential form, with all the requisite angst and internalized muscularity of the ostracized character in white, as the other dancers pound their fists into the air, walking in straight lines, dressed in tight, long, black stretch material. Katherine Crockett, like all Graham dancers, a fascinating persona, performed the heart-rending Lamentation, a tale of existential grief, wrapped in long, stretch, grey-purple material, head to toe. Ms. Crockett dove deep into this costume, almost as if to find Ms. Graham's soul. This was one of Ms. Graham's renowned roles.

Erica Dankmeyer, a dynamic dancer and choreographer in her own right, steeped in the Graham tradition, danced another of Ms. Graham's memorable solos, Satyric Festival Song. With a long, multi-striped stretch dress, straight, blonde hair tossed up, around, and about, Ms. Dankmeyer jumped and hopped and smiled in this dance of mirth. Steps in the Street, which begins and ends in stark silence, except for sliding, bare footsteps, an all female testament to the devastation of war, was all too easy to relate to, these days, with the footsteps of war so prevalent. It should be mentioned that the only music tonight was live, solo piano, and at this point, Patrick Daugherty switched seats with Alan Moverman on the bench. Both Mr. Daugherty and Mr. Moverman were incredibly attentive to the timing and mood of all of tonight's works. The live, solo piano concept was excellent, so much more appropriate than recorded scores. It accentuated the primal passion in Ms. Graham's choreography.

At about this time, Richard Move, in a variety of mock-Graham dresses, strutting back and forth, adorned in wig and woman's shoes, grasping a microphone, breathily "impersonated" Martha Graham, like "she" was hosting her own Gala. This writer has no problem with impersonators (See rave Grandiva review). This was, however, neither the time, nor the place for such ridicule, not for even a millisecond. Thus began the Graham repertoire, gallantly performed by dancers, who have survived a "challenging work environment", and it alternated with Mr./Ms. Move's dialogue, in the "first person'.

El Penitente was cut to a small excerpt, with Alessandra Prosperi, as Mary in all incarnations, partnered by David Zurak, as the Penitent. NYU's Skirball Center, with Richard Move in the wings, was hardly Bennington College, where Ms. Graham introduced this work in 1940. Another brief excerpt, from Appalachian Spring, was led by Miki Orihara as The Bride, with Tadej Brdnik as The Husbandman and Maurizio Nardi as The Revivalist. Four dancers performed as The Followers, and Alan Moverman, in his solo interpretation of Copland's score, was precise, poignant, and powerful in piano accompaniment of these two works, plus the next three.

The Dark Meadow excerpt featured three couples in classical Graham technique. A high point of this eclectic evening was in Fang-Yi Sheu's Cassandra excerpt of Clytemnestra. Judith Ivey first recited from Aeschylus, but still dressed in her street dress and hairstyle. Martha Graham and her followers were and remain purists. An onstage narrator would blend with motif and décor, a holistic approach to staging. Fang-Yi Sheu brought the house down, as she slowly slid onstage, with long cane and cloak. Her passion and angst almost shredded the silly wrapping on Martha Graham's staged legacy, before the tawdry show in the following piece became the low point.

Part Real-Part Dream, danced by the macho, muscular Desmond Richardson, accompanied by Richard Move, dancing, kicking his legs, flailing his arms, and grandstanding in his pièce de résistance, was a horror. This was the watershed moment, when I longed for one evening of original Graham repertoire, no gala required. In Maple Leaf Rag, Ms. Graham's final, 1990 choreographed work, we finally heard a snippet of Ms. Graham's recorded voice, in, of course, excerpted fashion, as she implores Louis Horst to play a piano rag one more time. Patrick Daugherty seized the keyboard with pizzazz, and the Company was reminiscent of the 1990 City Center début of this work, with Ms. Graham standing at the curtain in her gold or silver Halston.

Well, tonight at the curtain, Ms. Graham was "excerpted" into a tiny group photo, enlarged on the backdrop, where we could see but the corner of her dress - no dancer, no woman, no icon. Instead, Richard Move stood there, with the Martha Graham Dance Company, wearing a mock Halston and impersonating the legendary Martha Graham. There was no full-face, Graham shot, no clip of her actually talking or dancing (in her prime), no anecdotes from past dancers (now choreographers and artistic directors), and no Russian vodka toast. Champagne would have been a propos. Without an intermission, we could not even drink water. And, most importantly, there was no Spring Season, no full repertoire, no substantial tribute. This was Graham sans gravitas. To paraphrase Peter, Paul and Mary, "Where have all the donors gone?"


Sculpture of Martha Graham at the New York Library for the Performing Arts
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

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