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Classic Works and New Interpretations Highlight Martha Graham Dance Company Program

by Bonnie Rosenstock
April 19, 2018
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430
For its all-too-brief New York City Center season (April 12-14), the Martha Graham Dance Company, in its 92nd season, presented Graham classics accompanied by contemporary work in each program. All the Graham works featured live music played by The Mannes Orchestra, conducted by David Hayes, the icing on the cake of a sumptuous repast.

The performance April 14 began with Graham’s "Ekstasis" (1933), the lost solo reimagined in 2017 by former Graham principal dancer Virginie Mécène, using just a few photos and writings by Graham that suggested her early experiments with a “pelvic thrust gesture.” New music was by Ramon Humet (original music by Lehman Engel). As is her practice, Janet Eilber, the Company’s artistic director, explained to the audience in her introductory remarks after this piece was performed, “Articulation with the torso became central to her new style of dancing.” Graham herself said (quoted in the program notes), “The body is a sacred garment.” All this came together in Anne Souder’s stunning tour de force performance. Dressed in a white ankle-length form-fitting stretch fabric, she shaped her body in S-curves with protruding posterior in apposition, C-shapes with remarkably flexible arched torso, arms molded into close and distant shapes, every abdominal contraction and release visible. The movements were slow and sensual, with each shift of the body producing a new torso-driven discovery. This body was clothed in magic.

"Panorama" (1935), restaged and directed by Oliver Tobin and Amélie Bénard (original 1992 reconstruction by former Graham principal Yuriko, from the Julien Bryan film), was skillfully performed by teens ages 13-17 from the metropolitan area as part of the Teens@Graham All-City Panorama Project. The fast-paced piece was danced with verve and a sense of urgency. In their blood red dresses or pants outfits for the few males, they quick-stepped, took little steps, did small leaps and curved leaps, leaps here, there and everywhere, circled wide, intersected with each other, crossed off and onto the stage, counterpoint and unison in high gear, holding nothing back. A quintet danced to slower movements, changed levels and positions with ease and precision. These remarkable youngsters delivered the goods.

Lucinda Childs built upon "Histoire," an admirable duet she created for the Company in 1999, into an expanded work for eight dancers, which had its world premiere here. The duet’s music for harpsichord and tape was well crafted by Krzysztof Knittel, and tango master Astor Piazzolla’s exceptional compositions enhanced the new. At times the violin was so poignant that it cut through one’s heart. Laurel Dalley Smith and Ari Mayzick as the couple were exceptional. They slow danced in close contact, but were emotionally apart. They danced joyfully far apart in perfect unison but without relating to one another. When they reunited, there was tension. She sat on his lap; he pushed her away. She latched onto his back various times and in various ways, and he carried her like a burden. They went offstage together, but they weren’t together.

The expanded work for three couples could have been a separate piece except for the reminder towards the end when the first couple joined them. Overall, I found this section lackluster, repetitive and emotionless. I wasn’t sure if the three couples liked each other or not, as the choreography didn’t produce any fire or heat. I assume not all was well because at the end the four men stared at the women and then danced off into the wings.

The pièce de résistance was "Rite of Spring" (1984), which, remarkably, Graham choreographed just short of her 90th birthday, with music composed by Igor Stravinsky. I saw this mesmerizing work in January at the intimate Martha Graham Studio Theater as part of the GrahamDeconstructed Series. (For a comprehensive look at the historical background of the dance and my impressions of that performance, see my preview, “Eilber offers insight into Graham Company ‘s Upcoming Reprise of 'The Rite of Spring,'” published January 23, 2018 - www.exploredance.com/article.htm?id=4820&s=author&sid=7554.

The story tells of a tribal community gathering together to witness and participate in the sacrifice of The Chosen One (Peiju Chien-Pott), who will dance herself to death in order to bring about a fertile spring. The piece is rich in ritual and symbolism as when The Shaman (Ben Schultz) draped Chien-Pott around his neck like a sacrificial lamb. The formidable Schultz looked like a giant white bird spreading its massive wings; when it was draped around him, the two-sided cloth was black. But the evening belonged to the riveting Chien-Pott as she danced through resistance, pleading, fear, despair, acceptance and all emotions in between. The Company was never better in this fast-moving ever-changing choreographic whirlwind. While I immensely enjoyed the close-up and personal at the Martha Graham Studio Theater and Eilber’s always illuminating commentary, experiencing Rite of Spring on a big stage, with dancers in full costume highlighted by somber background projections created a whole other dimension of beauty, wonder and horror.
Photo of Laurel Dalley Smith and Ari Mayzick in Lucinda Childs’ 'Histoire'.

Photo of Laurel Dalley Smith and Ari Mayzick in Lucinda Childs’ "Histoire".

Photo © & courtesy of Melissa Sherwood


Photo of Teens and Graham students in Martha Graham’s 'Panorama'.

Photo of Teens and Graham students in Martha Graham’s "Panorama".

Photo © & courtesy of Melissa Sherwood


Photo of Teens and Graham students in Martha Graham’s 'Panorama'.

Photo of Teens and Graham students in Martha Graham’s "Panorama".

Photo © & courtesy of Melissa Sherwood


Photo of Martha Graham Dance Company in Martha Graham’s The 'Rite of Spring'.

Photo of Martha Graham Dance Company in Martha Graham’s The "Rite of Spring".

Photo © & courtesy of Ani Collier


Photo of Ben Schultz and PeiJu Chien-Pott in Martha Graham’s 'The Rite of Spring'.

Photo of Ben Schultz and PeiJu Chien-Pott in Martha Graham’s "The Rite of Spring".

Photo © & courtesy of Xiao Jing Wang


Photo of Lloyd Knight and Anne Souder in Lucinda Childs’ 'Histoire'.

Photo of Lloyd Knight and Anne Souder in Lucinda Childs’ "Histoire".

Photo © & courtesy of Ani Collier

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