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Martha Graham Dance Company: Errand into the Maze, El Penitente, Sueno, Sketches from Chronicle

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 17, 2005
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

About the Author:

Martha Graham Dance Company: Errand into the Maze, El Penitente, Sueno, Sketches from Chronicle

Martha Graham Dance Company
(Graham Company Website)

Martha Graham: Founder, Dancer, Choreographer
Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin: Artistic Directors
Marvin Preston: Executive Director
Isamu Noguchi and Riccardo Hernandez: Scenery Design
Beverly Emmons, Jean Rosenthal, and Christopher Akerlind:
Lighting Design
Aaron Sherber: Music Director/Conductor
Kate Elliott: General Manager
David Pini: Company Manager
Melissa Caolo: Production Stage Manager
Beverly Emmons: Lighting Designer
Martha Graham, Oscar de la Renta, and Donna Zakowska:
Costume Design
General Strategic Marketing, Ltd.,
Jonathan Marder/Martha Thomases: Publicity
Guest Artist: Martha Clarke
Music Director/Conductor: Aaron Sherber
Guest Composer: Franco Piersanti

Presented at City Center
(City Center Website)
(See other Graham Company Interviews, Reviews and Photos)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 17, 2005

Martha Graham, Founder, Dancer, and Choreographer of the Martha Graham Dance Company, was one of my greatest heroes. She and I actually shared the same birthday. She was a pioneer and a pillar of strength and encapsulated basic human emotions, especially those of female characters from the frontier and from mythology, drawing inspiration from friends who painted, sculpted, and composed 20th Century music. In 1988, Time Magazine named Martha Graham the Dancer of the Century. During her 70 years as a choreographer, Ms. Graham created 181 ballets and a Modern Dance technique that has been compared to ballet, due to its complexity and depth.

Martha Graham considered herself, first and foremost, a Dancer. I remember seeing her dance. She danced at a point of maturity, when many dancers have retired. Ms. Graham never retired, in my mind, and I recall her accepting Bravura audience acclaim, onstage, in her expansive, golden, Asian styled, Halston gowns. Her black hair was a severe as her dances. She continued to exude the same, studied presence and poise that have been recorded in photos and films of her earliest performances. Ms. Graham founded her dance company and school in 1926 in Carnegie Hall. In Ms. Graham's own words, "In all of us who perform there is an awareness of the smile which is part of the equipment, or gift, of the acrobat. We have all walked the high wire of circumstance at times. We recognize the gravity pull of the earth as he does. The smile is there because he is practicing living at the instant of danger. He does not choose to fall." (Company Notes).


Live Orchestra

Errand into the Maze (1947): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Gian Carlo Menotti, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Elizabeth Auclair and Whitney V. Hunter. This dance metaphor of conquering of fear, known and unknown, internalized and externalized, with Mr. Hunter as the Minotaur and Ms. Auclair as Ariadne, is mesmerizing and tormented.

Ariadne tried twice to overcome the enormous physical power of the near naked and strapped figure, overflowing with iron muscles and strapped horns and stick, as she contemplates her rope and her hiding place. Finally, she breaks her pattern and breaks her tormentor. The maze of rope reflects the maze of her mind and the maze of the myth, with the V- formed set, perhaps illustrative of a sexual fear as well, as the Minotaur leaps and pounces over the fallen female figure, prior to his own downfall. Both dancers exuded emotional electricity.


Martha Graham Dance Company - Errand into the Maze - Whitney V. Hunter
Photo courtesy of John Deane


El Penitente (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 Christophe Jeannot as Penitent, Martin Lofsnes as Christ Figure, and Alessandra Prosperi as Mary as Virgin, Magdalen, Mother.

This religiously based, abstract work, with circular marches, a play within a play, sets and costumes that casually change before our eyes, and self-flagellation, has an amorphous theme and a disturbing score. The episodes depicted in this dance have a consistent pulsating and marching choreography, with the Christ figure bearing a large prop turned angular cross, with the Penitent robed in archaic costumes, and with the female Mary in ever-changing cloths and figures, depending on her role of the moment. Mr. Lofsnes bore the cross with heaviness and fallen spirit. Ms. Prosperi affected a different attitude and dance for each changing role. And, Mr. Jeannot was most appropriate in the Penitent motif.

Sueño (World Premiere): Direction and Choreography by Martha Clarke, Music by Franco Piersanti, Lighting Design by Christopher Akerlind, Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernandez, Costume Design by Donna Zakowska, Aerial Choreography by AntiGravity, Christopher Harrison, Inspired by works of Francisco Goya, Performed by Elizabeth Auclair, Tadej Brdnik, Katherine Crockett, Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, Whitney V. Hunter, Christophe Jeannot, Gelan Lambert, Jr., Maurizio Nardi, Miki Orihara, Blakeley White-McGuire, and David Zurak.

This extremely disturbing new work by Martha Clarke was ill-conceived and ill-received. The sight of an endless noose, dark shadowy figures, hysterical, death-like laughter, onstage dance rape, onstage broken necks, and the swinging of women like human ropes would create quite an unsettling stir in Ms. Graham's thoughts, which were quite comfortable with violent mythology, but which never designed an over-the-top hideous and harrowing scene, such as the one to which the audience was subjected tonight.

Ms. Clarke does not give us daring, dream-like dance, but rather dreadful, nightmarish movement, no dance in sight. The Goya paintings, upon which this "dance" is based, may be dark and dreary, depraved and devilish, but they are not endless swims in a swamp of life. The dancers are not to blame for this work, which bears no likeness to Ms. Graham's remarkable repertoire. Ms. Zakowska's costumes would have worked with a different concept, and Mr. Hernandez' large scale scenery resembles German Expressionist film scenes. Mr. Piersanti's score, plus dancers whispering in hushed Spanish and clicking castanets in the background, was drowned out by the over the top stage action and stage shouting, plus extremely eery dramatizations.

Sketches from Chronicle (1936): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Wallingford Riegger, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Steps in the Street Lighting for Reconstruction by David Finley, Spectre-1914 and Prelude to Action Lighting for Reconstruction by Steven L. Shelley, Performed by Fang-Yi Sheu in Spectre-1914, Erica Dankmeyer and the Company in Steps in the Street, and Fang-Yi Sheu, Erica Dankmeyer, and the Company in Prelude to Action.

In today's performance of this all-female, towering and timeless anti-war statement, Ms. Sheu, in the first and third sections, added personal persuasiveness and poignant power to her role in the enormous red-black robe and to the ensemble's charismatic sideways march in meandering processions and circular choreography. Ms. Dankmeyer, as always, exuded a glorified presence.

Kudos to Martha Graham. Kudos to Martha Graham Dance Company 2005.

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