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Martha Graham Dance Company Opening Night

by Robert Abrams
January 22, 2003
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800

Martha Graham Dance Company Opening Night

Review by Robert Abrams
January 22, 2003

www.marthagrahamdance.org
www.joyce.org

The Martha Graham Dance Company presented a three act tour de force. The opening act consisted of Frontier danced by Auclair, Deep Song danced by Prosperi, Satyric Festival Song danced by Dankmeyer, Lamentation danced by Crockett, and Heretic danced by Sheu.

These works fit together like major variations on a theme, and as such were well matched, almost as if they were intended to be one dance. Using simple yet bold sets and costumes, these works provided a "welcome" to modern dance if there ever was one. Both in terms of the choreography and the individual performances, I have never seen any modern dance company do pure abstraction as well as the Martha Graham Dance Company did. The choreography often manages to look simple, without being minimalist. By simple, of course, I do not mean easy. More in the sense of uncluttered. Spare without being barren. Filled with life. The works are abstractions which reveal that concreteness of the human form.

One of the things I liked about all of the Martha Graham dancers was their presence. The dancers could be controlled, yet look like a rag doll (in terms of the apparent looseness of their movement). They often put their whole bodies into play.

Each work was a slightly different expression of the interplay of a dancer and a musician. Sometimes a pianist. Sometimes a flutist. Sometimes a pianist playing the strings on the inside of the piano. Dankmeyer's performance looked like the perfect non-representation of a grasshopper. In other words, it didn't look like a grasshopper literally, but it felt like a grasshopper. Somewhere there is a grasshopper that specializes in modern dance: this is probably what it looks like as it goes about its day. And just to let the audience know that modern dance has a sense of humor, there was a short section that looked like a well-danced rendition of Peanuts dance technique. Ms. Dankmeyer also proved that when she wants to, she can make her hair dance. In this regard, Martha Graham has a connection to African dance ("When one dances, one should move all parts of one's body."). (See also an interview with Ms. Dankmeyer.)

The final work is similar to the first four, but uses ten dancers dressed in black and one dancer dressed in white.

The second act consisted of Errand into the Maze and Maple Leaf Rag. The third act was a presentation of Dark Meadow.


Errand into the Maze
Photo by Robert Abrams
See the photo essay.

These are longer works that portray very different emotions. While the style is consistent with the works shown in the first act, these dances have more of a narrative, especially Errand into the Maze. For the most part, these are works that could have felt too long, yet never did. There was something about both the choreography and the performances that kept the works compelling. If any of the works was too long, it was Dark Meadow, but I suspect this had more to do with my having been running all over town before arriving at the Joyce Theater in the evening. If each act were a scoop of ice cream in a Sundae, Dark Meadow would be the third scoop of ice cream that you look at, after having eaten the first two scoops, and think, "I know it will be as good as the first two, but I just can't eat any more." Or, to rampantly mix metaphors, the left over ice cream is like the sake that is spilled over the sides of a wooden cup to demonstrate that the host is generous. The Martha Graham Dance Company generously presented some of the highest quality modern dance I have ever seen. Hopefully, you have already gotten your tickets, because they are apparently almost completely sold out. If you didn't get tickets, make sure to get them for their next season. And since they usually present different works on different nights, make sure you go more than once.

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