Performing Arts: Dance
March 21, 2014
Martha Graham Dance Company returned to New York City Center for its 88th Season, bringing audiences two versions of a diverse program entitled "Myth and Transformation," featuring some of Grahams' most iconic works. An added bonus came with two world premieres by highly regarded contemporary choreographers Andonis Foniadakis and Nacho Duato - speaking to the Graham company's revamped focus on celebrating artistic risk-taking, contextualized by the timeless legacy of Graham's work.

The Thursday, March 20 performance opened with "Appalachian Spring." Seventy years ago, in the throes of World War II, Graham created this work with Aaron Copland contributing the score, and Isamu Noguchi, the set. Experiencing this work in 2014, its relevancy prevails in its elegant simplicity and representation of the American spirit. Blakeley White-McGuire and Abdiel Jacobsen pair well as the bride and groom duo and Katherine Crockett portrays the Pioneering Woman, frequently reintroduced into the action with her leg extended slicing upwards to the side, capturing an image of resilience and hope. The Preacher, Lloyd Knight, is followed by four females donning pale blue ruffled dresses, their movements colored with elements of folk dance - curtsies, repeated phrases, and skips are no strangers to this work.

The World Premiere of Nacho Duato's "Depak Ine" follows, and is breath-taking. In under five weeks the Spanish choreographer drew from his recent readings of Darwin, creating the captivating piece that aptly showcased not only the strength Graham dancers are known for, but their impressive range and versatility. With a body sprawled face-down beneath a singular stream of foggy light, a male dancer scurries out from the shadows, sliding on his back. A female dancer quickly follows, clasping on to him and peering between his legs at the lifeless body before them.

In a series of shadow-masked entrances and exits from all corners of stage, more bodies emerge and collide, evolving into wild beings, seemingly part-animal, part-demon. Once the stellar soloist PeiJu Chien-Pott finally emerges from her sprawled position, a sense of anxiety permeates as her chaotic convulsions are met with bouts of punctuated, elongated, body lines; and, a disturbing moment as she perches atop three collapsed male bodies, briefly shoving her fingers down her throat. Meanwhile the others swarm, until only one is left, sinking into a low stance, as he nuzzles into the fabric he's pulled from his shirt, up an over his head.

Along with the choreography, all the creative elements fit: Arsenije Jovanovic' "Athos-Montana Sacra" and John Talabot's "Fin" add the aggressive soundscape, Angelina Atlagic's costumes are unassuming yet varied and sexy, and the lighting design by Bradley Fields is haunting in the best of ways. The cryptic world of Duato's "Deepak Ine" pervades with domination, sensuality, and primal antics. Sandwiched between familiar Graham classics, this work's fresh vitality is heightened.

Closing the program is Graham's "The Rite of Spring" set to music by Igor Stravinsky. Graham herself starred in LĂ©onide Massine's 1930 ballet to this score, after which she waited 54 years before revisiting the musical work as a choreographer in her own right. The clear-cut patterns, reliance on symmetry, and aura of subdued strength elicited particularly through the ensemble work, directly contrast the violence upon which the work hinges - it is, after all, based on a sacrificial ritual where a girl dances herself to death.

The talented Xiaochuan Xie performs as the Chosen One, her hair sweeping in circles as she is moved, tied up, and lifted by The Shaman, Ben Schultz. Most interesting is the presentation of this work with projected sets, a new production concept by Artistic Director Janet Eilber given the company's loss of historic sets and costumes during Hurricane Sandy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Jenny Thompson

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