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Martha Graham Dance Company Program Proves Stunning

by Rita Kohn
February 7, 2014
Clowes Memorial Hall of Butler University
4602 Sunset Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317-940-6444
This review was originally published in NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis, IN.

Rita Kohn is a member of the Board of the Dance Critics Association.
The power of Martha Graham's choreography emanates from the essence of her ability to inhabit each character—sinew, soul, heart and gut, laying bare motivations, weaknesses, lusts and, yes, the better parts of humor, pathos and lovingkindness.

With her work "Clytemnestra", the destiny of women in an ancient tragedy is raw, guttural and relentlessly unbalanced. In this terse re-imagining Aeschylus' original Trojan War reportage, it reads like current news—only the names of the main characters are changed. With Graham's spin Clytemnestra gets her day in court, but clemency is not in the cards.

In a suite from "Appalachian Spring", creative collaboration revealed itself equally on stage and in subtext, a being-in-the-moment as the noun 'vision' grows into the verb 'envision,' as thought glides toward action. Indeed, intimacy is the stuff of public domain, history is in the making and being recalled. Idealism in marriage, and a cocked eye toward religion intermingle on the frontier of life and land.

With "Maple Leaf Rag", Graham's ability to situate herself into her lifelong loves and love of life draws us into the largesse of her introspection and legacy. We're there with her over her long career, faced with bare space and bars of music—bodies waiting to be positioned at and around the barre. The lure of Antiquity becomes immediate—what moves her to share as story? The longing for experimentation goes beyond expected boundaries; the 'how to' shows itself as 'express, expression, expressive' in all its manifestations—'directly and distinctly stated; definite; clear; explicit; exact; precise; purposeful;' 'dispatched as a special messenger. This last of her fully choreographed works is an essay on her technique, developed to allow the body as instrument to reach full potential.
And that is where the dancer takes over. Graham's concept of movement is that of a stream making its way through turbulence—untamed, jagged, ragged, purposeful in its journey toward its destination. Oh, she knows about happy gurgling over rounded bedrocks. We see that in the love scene as Aegisthus lures Clytemnestra into murder; as The Bride weaves her dream to her Husbandman; as the lead man entices the lead woman in "Maple Leaf Rag". All this is conveyed by the dancer who has absorbed not only the technique to dig out of oneself the most intimate expressions of selfhood and put it out there for everyone to see, touch, feel, but equally who has taken on the mantle of Graham's charisma.

And that intimacy finds its metaphor in fabric—as clothing, as prop, as extension of self. With Graham so much is going on. On what, where, who do we focus? Even in a solo, there are sparks going off in multiple directions. It's an acquired ability to absorb Martha Graham's choreography as a dancer and as an audience member. While the stories are clear, the mode of delivery can challenge. You can 'get it' or not. You can revel in it or be dismissive. But either way you can't help but be touched. Something is always just beyond reach—the glide is stopped short by—what? The touch is thwarted by—whom? The dancers are stunning in their powers to communicate.

It's easy to leave a Graham performance disquieted. It takes a bit more effort to smile, sigh, to see the mundane through refracted light, a prism distilling white light into distinctive colors. In this retrospective program Graham's gifts are carried forward by a Company seeking as she did, the next 'period of expression' in the messy business of humanity.
Martha Graham's 'Clytemnestra'.

Martha Graham's "Clytemnestra".

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