Performing Arts: Dance
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 psychology.

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 overhead.

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

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