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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Performance Reviews
Martha Graham
Marymount Manhattan College
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Martha Graham Dance Ensemble

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 29, 2003
Marymount Manhattan College
221 East 71st Street
New York, NY 10021
(212) 517-0400

About the Author:

Martha Graham Dance Ensemble


Martha Graham: Founder, Dancer, Choreographer
Marvin Preston IV: Executive Director
Kate Elliott: General Manager
Kenneth Topping: Artistic Director, and Director, Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance
Elizabeth Auclair: Associate Director
Terese Capucilli, Christine Dakin, Janet Eilber, Linda Hodes, Stuart Hodes, Pearl Lang, and Yuriko: Artistic Consultants
General Strategic Marketing, Ltd., Jonathan Marder and Martha Thomases: Publicity

Ensemble Performers
Snezana Adjanski, Nya Bowman, Jessica Delia, Jacquelyn Elder, Ernest Gonzales, Ritza Mavrokefalou, Kumiko Nasu, Eng Kian Ooi, Jeffrey Smith, Sadira Smith, Gabriel Zaragoza, Marco Zarate-Sanchez, Alejandro Chavez Zavala

Presented at Theresa Lang Theater
Marymount Manhattan College

Review by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 29, 2003

(See Related Interviews, Reviews, Candids)

The Martha Graham Dance Ensemble is a group of Pre-Professional dancers in training, who perform in schools and colleges, and who are very closely intertwined with the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and the Martha Graham Dance Company. Kenneth Topping (See Interview) is the very talented Artistic Director of the Ensemble. The rich history of several generations of dancers, who have continued the multi-layered dance legacy of Ms. Graham, propels this Ensemble toward the excellence that was the hallmark of Martha Graham.

The Martha Graham Dance Ensemble dedicates this Season to Bertram Ross (1920-2003), who was Martha Graham's dance partner and the Co-Director of her company for about 25 years. From 1949 to 1973 he was part of her Company, while he danced and created leading roles for male dancers. He also created cabaret acts and taught on the University level at such esteemed institutions as The Juilliard School. Ms. Graham once said, "I steal from the best…Plato, Picasso, and Bertram Ross". (Graham Ensemble Notes).

Tonight, included in the program was a slide and piano tribute to Bertram Ross, as John Wallowitch, Mr. Ross' longtime companion, performed on keyboard, while a documentary series of personal and dance-related photos were projected onto an onstage screen. This was a meaningful and poignant part of the evening's program, and Mr. Wallowitch admirably created an appropriate mood to the theme of these moments. Kenneth Topping also collaborated on this tribute, with the help of friends and staff.

Diversion of Angels (1948): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Norman Dello Joio, Costumes by Martha Graham, Lighting after Jean Rosenthal, Performed by the Ensemble. When I reviewed this piece for the Graham Company, I was in awe, although I must admit up front that I am a life-long member of the Graham audience. When one realizes that she/he is reviewing students, i.e., pre-professional dancers, one is even more in awe at the level of focus and presence and skill, so inherent in a work such as this, that is so emotionally demanding, as are all of Ms. Graham's works, minus, perhaps, Maple Leaf Rag, which is upbeat and buoyant. I had already reviewed another Ensemble (Joffrey, See Review), and, in fact, the Joffrey Artistic Director, Elie Lazar (See Interview), was my guest tonight at the Graham Ensemble event. The fact that the performers are still students and are usually accustomed to performing for schools gives the critic a sense of flexibility and forgiveness if a step or two are missed, or if choreographed group movement is not equally precise.

In this case, Kumiko Nasu, as the Woman in Yellow, performed with excellent timing and exquisite leg extensions. All dancers were in character, as three couples who demonstrate three forms of love: Couple in White is mature, Couple in Yellow is adolescent, and Couple in Red is erotic. Other dancers, in flesh colored leotards and costumes, are participants in this imaginary love garden. This 1948 creation has obvious everlasting meaning, and the Graham Ensemble danced it in splendid form. I was reminded of Degas' dancers (See Degas Review), although his were ballerinas, and these were contemporary dancers, because from my orchestra front seat I could see the young dancers preparing and peering from the wings. This casualness and youthful eagerness were two of Degas' favorite dance motifs.

Nocturne: Choreography by Bertram Ross, Rehearsal Director for Mr. Ross: Deborah Zall, Music by George Gershwin, Costumes by Karen Young, Lighting by Bertram Ross, Performed by Members of the Ensemble.

El Penitente (1940): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Louis Horst, Costumes by Martha Graham, Lighting after Jean Rosenthal, Performed by Members of the Company. Gabriel Zaragoza was quite effective as the Penitent character, from a sect in the American Southwest. Ms. Graham had visited the American Southwest, during the time of Georgia O'Keefe, and some of the sets bore remarkable similarity to Ms. O'Keefe's artwork (See Bio). The severe music of Ms. Graham's close friend, Louis Horst, perfectly set the mood, which was showcased in the intensity of the Graham technique of the three characters. Jessica Delia as Virgin, Mary as Magdalene, and Mother, and Alejandro Chavez-Zavala, as the Christ Figure, were well rehearsed, studied, and dramatically effective. Ms. Graham's costumes were quintessentially hers, and hers alone. With a large cross covered with large, dark material, dark hoods, capes, ropes, and an enormous white hoop, this was a deeply symbolic piece. The three dancers were remarkably ready for its demands and dimensions.

Acts of Light (1981): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Carl Nielsen, Costumes by Halston and Martha Graham, Lighting by Beverly Emmons, performed by the Ensemble. I had not seen this piece in many years. It was visually multi-dimensional, soulful, and intense. The Ensemble was not fatigued, and it was a long evening. I should mention that the contraction-release and gravitationally daring movements, that are so unique to Ms. Graham's choreography and dance style, were all in fine form tonight, as the Ensemble dancers have been well trained. I love the signature Graham bends, as one foot remains on the floor, as the entire body tilts forward, in a seemingly dangerous motion, yet always grounded by the tight torso. This work, about love, death, and rebirth, ends with a celebration of intrinsic Graham technique.

Kudos to Kenneth Topping and Elizabeth Auclair. Kudos, as always, to Martha Graham.

A lovely Reception followed this performance at the new Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance on the East Side. (See candids below).

Photos from the Performance

Kumiko Nasu as The Woman in Yellow in the Martha Graham School Ensemble's presentation of Martha Graham's "Diversion of Angels"
Photo courtesy of (c) Julie Lemberger, 2003

Snezana Adjanski as The Woman in Red, Jeffrey Smith and Ritza Mavrokefalou as The Couple in White in the Martha Graham School Ensemble's presentation of Martha Graham's "Diversion of Angels"
Photo courtesy of (c) Julie Lemberger, 2003

Jessica Delia (Virgin, Mary as Magdalen, Mother) in the Martha Graham School Ensemble's presentation of Martha Graham's "El Penitente"
Photo courtesy of (c) Julie Lemberger, 2003

Ritza Mavrokefalou and Ernest Gonzales of the Martha Graham School Ensemble in Martha Graham's "Acts of Light"
Photo courtesy of (c) Julie Lemberger, 2003

Reception at the new Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance on East 63rd St.
Photos by Roberta Zlokower

Special Guests

Board Member

Stuart Hodes and Guest



Ken Topping and Guest


Graham School Administrator

Ensemble Dancers

Ken Topping and Ensemble Dancers




Choosing a Treat

Marvelous Desserts

Jonathan Marder and Guest

Erin Griffin and Guests


Annie La Rock and Guests


Time to Reflect

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