Performing Arts: Dance
February 19, 2017
The Graham company’s gala at the Joyce succinctly demonstrated Artistic Director Janet Eilber’s brilliant strategy for the company as both steward of Martha Graham’s legacy, and as a place for artists doing fresh, current contemporary dance. Although the Graham company had been weathering ups and downs for some time, it seems they should worry no more.

The program, themed “Sacred/Profane,” opened with Graham classic Primitive Mysteries, a deeply moving, ritualistic work she created in 1931 on her then all-female company. Before curtain, Eilber noted that the work is based both on Christian Marian myths and Native American rituals. Danced in three sections, women in long blue dresses enter the stage in scattered lines, slowly and purposefully walking across the stage in silence by extending a flexed foot forward, then stepping slightly beyond it and pausing, all with the same breath and in perfect unison. When the angelic Peiju Chien-Pott, dressed in white, joins in – the proverbial Virgin Mary – the women surround her and in changing geometric patters, plead with angular arm gestures that reveal both pain and hope.

The current Graham dancers are as committed, proud, and beautiful as one imagines they must have been eighty-six years ago. At one point, they each join in a large, rushing circle around Chien-Pott, doing gorgeous, gazelle-like grand jete jumps while their bodies contract over and with both arms clasped together behind their backs, in a powerful image of protection and vulnerability. Graham created Primitive Mysteries a year after working with Leonide Massine as the Chosen One in his Rite of Spring, and I couldn’t help seeing connections to that experience.

No intermission interrupted the flow into Mosaic, the world premiere by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders. While the early Graham work required strong, erect postures with some contractions, in Mosaic the torsos and spines are fully released, with today's contemporary articulation and flexibility. An impressive flow of complex choreography with transitions that dissolve before our eyes, Cherkaoui’s inventiveness lies in his manipulation of structure, aided by atmospheric lighting by Nick Hung. It was a pleasure to see the Graham dancers, so committed to the historical repertory, also cutting loose in such a different work, baring midriffs (in costumes by Karen Young) and making references to Indian dance, to music by Felix Buxton, giving us a little “profane” after the quite power of the first work, a nice way to reach the breadth of a gala audience.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY --Nicole Duffy Robertson

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