MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE Co. Clytemnestra, Rite of Spring,
March 24, 2014
It’s not every day you get to announce your company’s 88th season. For Janet Eilber, this seemed routine as she outlined Program A of the Martha Graham Dance Company’s jam-packed weekend at City Center. Bringing together a classic, a premiere, and a treat, the performance was one that every Grahamophile could savor, but more importantly, one her detractors needed to witness.
Clytemnestra set the night in raucous motion, Katherine Crockett utterly transparent in the titular role resisting Hades and ricocheting through traumatic memories of the sack of Troy and the sacrifice of Iphigenia. It is, however, Lloyd Knight as the Messenger of Death who seals the work with arresting gravity. With only a handful of entrances, each consisting of the same viscid turn, hollowing contraction, and an arch that could wrap around Pluto, Knight unlocks his jaw, embodying the ominous howls of El-Dabh’s score, save the bone-chillingly silent iteration announcing Clytemnestra’s fate.
The zenith of her Greek ballets, Graham’s choices are precise and serve in telling the tale. Partnering between Clytemnestra and Agamemnon consists of lifts built paradoxically on pressing them apart. Movement geometry reveals the nature of relationships. As Agamemnon’s ghost haunts Orestes, the two share sympathetic angles with crossed weaponry, connecting the world of the living with the dead. Conversely, shapes clash between the sexes in war’s frenzy.
Graham thrice abandons her fully embodied storytelling for relatively pedestrian interaction, most significantly between the happy couple in their chamber. In her trademark prop usage, they exchange iconic possessions, and, ostensibly, genders. Agamemnon strokes his wife’s lavender veil, draping down his torso through his legs while Clytemnestra assumes a phallic relationship with her husband’s golden axe with which she soon slaughters him.
Billed as a one-act distillation of the three-act work, generic titles projected in place of movement make it more of a castration. Processing Graham’s iconography is a titillating puzzle; the edits serve no purpose other than cramming the work with others in the same night – a thrilling journey reduced to a PBS special.
Echo, by Andonis Foniadakis, shifted gears. An impressionist take on the myth of Narcissus, one would think a different company was speaking his fluid language. Investigating the oft-abused choreographic mirror, Lloyd Mayor approaches a reclining Lorenzo Pagano, struggling through the composition’s limitations on partnering. Peiju Chien-Pott and ensemble vigorously intervene, bringing them deeper into weight-bearing contact. We never know who the “reflection” is; further contemplation becomes futile when Pagano forcibly whisks Mayor away.
Graham’s final work, 1990’s Maple Leaf Rag offered a poignantly light conclusion. Joplin cranks away as every Graham cliché is masterfully composed into a vaudevillian gymnastic dog-show, centered on a rubbery bench/barre/tightrope/bird-perch/hurdle. Between Crockett’s hilariously grim fan-kicking passages, the company accumulates to observe quotations from repertoire. It’s as if all Graham roles, unaware of their pastel tights, were invited to celebrate their mother. Only Martha could have tackled herself so completely.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews