Performing Arts: Dance
April 12, 2022
The Martha Graham Dance Company has done it again – while sublimely honoring their founder, an icon of mid-twentieth century modern dance, they also managed to blow the audience away in the most contemporary, heart-pounding way. From the hoots and hollers elicited by Hofesh Schecter’s new work, to the joyful theatricalized staging of Graham’s Ritual of the Sun from Acts of Light (1981), the Graham company’s programming cut across generational divides and excited their gala audience like few major dance companies today.

As a clean and clear-eyed exposition of Graham technique, Ritual of the Sun is choreographically simple: group sections, solos and duets highlight signature qualities: a proud, open chest that contrasts with the concave use of the torso, joyful bodily expression, and the amalgamation of ballet technique into a new dance language.

Dressed in bright yellow unitards designed by Halston and Graham, and proudly exuding their Graham heritage, the dancers danced to the heroic music by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen with total commitment and gusto, uninhibited by the dated nature of the work.

Canticle for an Innocent Comedian, a work inspired by Graham’s work from 1952, was commissioned by Artistic Director Janet Eilber from eight different choreographers. Sonya Tayeh’s excerpts were as mysterious as they were absorbing. Groups of three to four dancers lined up behind each other, limbs out and fingers splayed in branch-like shapes, bodies shifted, stretched, and circled around each other, slowly changing configurations.

The gorgeous costumes by Karen Young – long skirts with alternating sheer panels and colorful mosaics – swayed with the sensual movement, as circling bodies pulled and embraced each other, in contrast with our pandemic world. Smoke emanated superfluously from behind each group, seemingly for “atmosphere” that was already present in the music and choreography. A Sun solo, in a radically different ritual from the previous work, was impressively embodied by the sinewy and supple Lorenzo Pagano.

A break in the dancing brought CNN’s Alina Cho, the evening’s host, onstage to honor five women whose collective accomplishments are beyond impressive: Tracy Richelle High, Dr. Kathryn Jansen, Jackie-Michelle Martinez, Jane Edison Stevenson, and Carol Wincenc. A wonderful nod to the positive impact of female power.

Last but not least, Hofesh Schecter’s CAVE, a co-production with Studio Simkin, brought the evening to a wild and exhilarating close. Simkin, a former ABT principal, fit right in with the spectacular Graham dancers as they all showed off the athletes of the Gods that they are, while still part of a cohesive group. In an intensely hot amalgam of highly structured dancing blended with individualized club moves and shades of other forms, the dancers moved nonstop to a relentless house mix by AME and the choreographer.

The impact of CAVE reminded me of what I have heard about Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe: a theatricalized exploration of what it means to be young now: energized young people (in spite of the pandemic, or perhaps because of it).
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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