THE MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE COMPANY PROGRAM B
February 27, 2017
The Graham company, under the visionary direction of Janet Eilber, continually
demonstrates how to honor a monumental history, while simultaneously
maintaining the interest of a contemporary audience that is increasingly removed
from that legacy. Her pre-curtain remarks on each work are instructive and prepare
the audience to take in a radical mix of styles and ideas. In fact, these programs end
up making the revivals of what might seem dated Graham works into shining gems
that will challenge today’s choreographers, seen alongside them, to keep up.
In “Dark Meadow Suite,” Eilber has combined highlights from a longer work to a
score by Carlos Chavez and inspired by Graham’s love of the American Southwest
and Mexico, as well as loftier ideas about memory, presence, and Jungian
Unlike her Greek-inspired narrative works of the 1940s, Meadow is
semi-abstract, yet it has characters, like She Who Seeks and He Who Summons,
danced with fateful attraction by Anne Souder and Lloyd Mayor. The dancing was
imbued with a palpable sensuality – the women especially in the midriff-exposing
versions of Graham’s costumes. And the moment when Souder leaned forward like
Neptune’s wooden angels, softly reaching her eyes and arms beyond, while Mayor
sat on the ground, knees apart, holding her firmly planted on the ground,
encapsulated the notion of yearning for more while being captive to human nature.
The splendid PeiJu Chien-Pott redefined what a hip isolation can look like in Virginie
Mecene’s reimagining of Graham’s “Ekstasis.” Costumed in a gorgeous, tight-fitting
cream-colored gown designed by Graham, Chien-Pott curved her body into extreme
yet soft shapes to music by Lehman Engel.
Pontus Lidberg’s “Woodland,” inspired by
Irving Fine’s score from 1950, created a strange world where Xin Ying, costumed in
a high neckline, schoolgirl outfit, is surrounded by a group of animal-like creatures
(as their masks by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung indicate), that ambiguously
surrounded her and simultaneously seem to accost and protect her. The movement
swirls, they fall and recover, and at one point she curls up on the floor, as if falling
asleep in the middle of her own dream.
Just when you think they might lose the younger members of the audience, Annie-B
Parsons jolted the unsuspecting crowd with “I used to love you,” her somewhat
comedic entanglement with Graham’s 1941 Punch and the Judy.
A black and white
clip of the original was projected on stage as we entered the theater, which
allowed us to see some of the movement and ideas about to be deconstructed. A
loud trio of women (fabulously clad by Oana Botez) wryly narrated into
microphones and sailed around the stage in wheeled desk chairs; beating their legs
in pretty entrechat sixes while some deafening heavy metal by Tei Blow played
Then the characters from the original appear in wildly distraught
iterations, and the problem between Punch and the Judy turns out to be that he’s
gay. The humor in this piece veered so wildly from its original inspiration, that it left
us with the feeling of perhaps trying too hard, and unsure of what Annie-B really
thought of her task.
Even with all the attention getting trappings of the previous work, my very young
companion loved Graham’s "Maple Leaf Rag" the best. Although Graham poked fun at
herself here – it was her last work – she did so while also choreographing full,
robust, energetic, sweet dancing: a nice way to end the potpourri.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson