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Bonnie Rosenstock
Music and Dance Reviews
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The Joyce Theater
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New York City
New York
New York, NY

Martha Graham Dance Company: A Mix of Tried & New

by Bonnie Rosenstock
February 13, 2015
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
The Martha Graham Dance Company, founded in 1926, is the oldest modern dance company in America. Martha Graham, who died in 1991, choreographed for more than 70 years—her last work, in 1990, was a year before her death at age 96. Her body of work is innumerable, her influence on modern dance incalculable.

That said, no company can survive solely on original work, albeit as prolific and far-ranging as Graham's. However, Program B on February 13, a mixed bag of Graham's choreographic masterpieces and commissioned works by contemporary artists "inspired by Graham's legacy," did not succeed.

The theme of the two-week run at the Joyce (February 10-22), "Shape and Design," recognizes Graham's influence as an American modernist. The season highlights the sculptural and architectural aspects of her choreography as well as others. Every performance opens with a remarkable short film created by Peter Arnell, featuring dancers from the current Graham Company. Arnell photo-montaged over 2,000 still photos, which captures the glorious sculptural images of Graham's torso-driven movement vocabulary.

Graham's iconic 85-year-old solo, "Lamentation" (haunting music by Zoltán Kodály) still delivered an impact. (Her assistants, Ron Protas and Linda Hodes, had the foresight to preserve much of her work, including taped interviews in which she described her entire technique, and videos of her performances.) Graham, personifying grief itself, is encased in a tube of purple jersey, with only her hands, feat and face revealed. She is seated on a bench almost throughout. The tensile movements of the fabric created a moving sculpture. Her face is oddly calm, yet those eyes—closed, but all-seeing.

Choreographers were invited to create a dance study of their reaction to the film, resulting in "Lamentation Variations." It was originally conceived to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 and premiered on that date in 2007. The parameters included ten hours of rehearsal, public domain music or silence, basic costumes and lighting design—and no more than four minutes, the duration of the original piece. The three choreographies (alternating with three others) by Michelle Dorrance, Liz Gerring and Bulareyaung Pagarlava, seemed to be derived from the same salad bowl of lightly seasoned ingredients.

What Picasso painted with "Guernica," Graham, his contemporary, choreographed for her solo "Deep Song" (1937). The title translates into "cante jondo" in Spanish, which is the most serious of flamenco vocal styles. It expressed the anguish of the Spanish people during its Civil War (1936-39), but symbolized all of human suffering. In a form-fitting black and white dress, Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch sublimely performed the Graham canon of gestures, contractions, tension and releases, the only prop a lone white bench, used to lean and sit on, hide under, turn on its side to rest against.

"Errand Into the Maze" (1947), set design by frequent collaborator, sculptor Isamu Noguchi, was a duet that Graham choreographed for herself and Mark Ryder, here performed flawlessly by Blakeley White-McGuire and Abdiel Jacobsen, with horned forehead. It retells the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in the labyrinth, but substitutes Ariadne, who helped Theseus escape, as the protagonist on a journey to conquer the beast of fear and emerge from the dark. The set consisted of a U-shaped frame, opened on the top, as a seat in a tree, also likened to a woman's pelvic bones; a towering slender metal arc; and a lengthy rope, which she crisscrossed three times, symbolizing the journey to the doorway (the tree/pelvis). It would be impossible to contemplate "Shape and Design" without Noguchi, noted Janet Eilber, the Company's artistic director since 2005, who introduced the evening's performance with commentary about the pieces, as she will do throughout the run.

Graham's "Panorama" (1935), reconstructed by Yuriko (1992), featured scores of student dancers from various high schools in and around the city. It is a relentless high-energy piece, which expresses the power of numbers to effect change. In full display were Graham's signature exits and entrances, masterful use of circular patterns, groups crisscrossing onstage, hunched leaps, jumps and quick steps. While generally danced well and with verve, not all the dancers moved in sync, especially jarring in the leaps, as heads bobbed up and down at different levels.

Annie-B Parson's "The Snow Falls in the Winter" (2015) was inspired by Eugène Ionesco's one-act play, "The Lesson," "deconstructed and reinvented to examine issues of teaching, learning and grammar," whatever that means. There was a group of people taking turns reading and repeating the same lines, walking about and falling down on the floor a lot.

Andonis Foniadakis' "Echo" (2014) is a gem. It doesn't retell the Greek myth of Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection, nor Echo and her multiple voices, but instead, it delves into the complexities of love and the hazards of vanity. The three principal dancers, PeiJu Chien-Pott (her long, flowing black hair had a life of its own), Lloyd Knight and Lloyd Mayor were glorious to watch, as were the supporting dancers. While Graham is contraction-release, Foniadakis is elegant flow. A worthy addition to the Graham legacy.
Lloyd Mayor, PeiJu Chien-Pott and Lloyd Knight in Andonis Foniadakis' 'Echo'.

Lloyd Mayor, PeiJu Chien-Pott and Lloyd Knight in Andonis Foniadakis' "Echo".

Photo © & courtesy of Brigid Pierce

Abdiel Jacobsen and Blakeley White-McGuire in Martha Graham's 'Errand Into the Maze'.

Abdiel Jacobsen and Blakeley White-McGuire in Martha Graham's "Errand Into the Maze".

Photo © & courtesy of Brigid Pierce

Martha Graham Dance Company in Annie-B Parson's 'The Snow Falls in the Winter'<br>Pictured L-R: Tadej Brdnik and Xiaochuan Xie. On floor: Natasha Diamond-Walker and Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch.

Martha Graham Dance Company in Annie-B Parson's "The Snow Falls in the Winter"
Pictured L-R: Tadej Brdnik and Xiaochuan Xie. On floor: Natasha Diamond-Walker and Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch.

Photo © & courtesy of Brigid Pierce

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