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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Performance Reviews
Martha Graham
The Joyce Theater
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Martha Graham Dance Company - Opening Night

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 22, 2003
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011

About the Author:

Martha Graham Dance Company - Opening Night


Martha Graham: Founder, Dancer, Choreographer
Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin: Artistic Directors
Marvin Preston: Executive Director
Isamu Noguchi and Arch Lauterer: Scenery Design
Beverly Emmons, Jean Rosenthal, David Finley, Steven L. Shelley: Lighting Design
Aaron Sherber: Music Director/Conductor
Kate Elliott: General Manager
Michael Stewart: Production Stage Manager
Paul B. Ziemer: Production Manager
Beverly Emmons: Lighting Supervisor
Russell Vogler, Jeffrey Wirsing, Karen Young: Costumers
Kenneth Topping: Director, Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance
General Strategic Marketing, Ltd., Martha Thomases: Publicity

Presented at the Joyce Theater with Live Orchestra and Piano

Review by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 22, 2003

(See Interviews, Topping and Dankmeyer)
(See Review, Dankmeyer)
(See Abrams Graham Review)
(See Graham Photo Essays by Robert Abrams, Lisa Allen and Natalie Laruccia)

Martha Graham, Founder, Dancer, and Choreographer of the Martha Graham Dance Company, was one of my greatest heroes. She and I actually shared the same birthday. She was a pioneer and a pillar of strength and encapsulated basic human emotions, especially those of female characters from the frontier and from mythology, drawing inspiration from friends who painted, sculpted, and composed 20th Century music. In 1988, Time Magazine named Martha Graham the Dancer of the Century. During her 70 years as a choreographer, Ms. Graham created 181 ballets and a Modern Dance technique that has been compared to ballet, due to its complexity and depth.

Martha Graham considered herself, first and foremost, a Dancer. I remember seeing her dance. She danced at a point of maturity, when many dancers have retired. Ms. Graham never retired, in my mind, and I recall her accepting Bravura audience acclaim, onstage, in her expansive, golden, Asian styled, Halston gowns. Her black hair was as severe as her dances. She continued to exude the same, studied presence and poise that have been recorded in photos and films of her earliest performances. Ms. Graham founded her dance company and school in 1926 in Carnegie Hall. In Ms. Graham's own words, "In all of us who perform there is an awareness of the smile which is part of the equipment, or gift, of the acrobat. We have all walked the high wire of circumstance at times. We recognize the gravity pull of the earth as he does. The smile is there because he is practicing living at the instant of danger. He does not choose to fall."

Frontier (1935): Choreography and Costume by Martha Graham, Music by Louis Horst, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Elizabeth Auclair. Ms. Auclair, with tremendous presence and passion, opened this wonderful Graham Season, the first in years, on a stark and angular set, emoting the hope and fears of the quintessential, Pioneer Woman. It was a joy to see, once again, the signature contract-release movements of the torso and shoulders, contrasted with the simple, straight spine, the uplifted leg, and the sharply contracted foot, all so reminiscent of Ms. Graham's guttural style. Ms. Auclair was an excellent choice for the showcasing of this first piece, as she exuded such energy and dynamism, significant efforts that would have pleased Martha Graham, who was known to demand such strength and focus from her dancers, as she demanded the same from herself.

Deep Song (1937): Choreography and Costume by Martha Graham, Music by Henry Cowell, Lighting for reconstruction by David Finley, Performed by Alessandra Prosperi, Piano: Patrick Daugherty. To the dissonant sound of a prepared piano, in chiaroscuro costume and set (simple white bench, black backdrop), Ms. Prosperi, with bent ankle, glares into the horizon. She exudes angst and despair, those human emotions that Ms. Graham synthesized so well, in her vibrant and revealing choreography. Ms. Prosperi used the bench as a support and as a weight, silently wailing from within, fists clenched overhead, sometimes parallel to the stage floor. This was a study in grief.

Satyric Festival Song (1932): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Original Music by Imre Weisshaus, Music for reconstruction by Fernando Palacios, Arranged by Aaron Sherber, Lighting for reconstruction by David Finley, Flute: Alison Potter, Performed by Erica Dankmeyer. Ms. Dankmeyer (See Dankmeyer Interview and Review) performed this whimsical piece with verve and technical skill. In a long, striped jersey dress, like a green candy cane, she used her very long and very blond hair as an addition to her costume, to create movement and light and sensational sassiness to her outstanding presentation. The solo flute added just the airiness and fluidity, necessary to achieve a total contrast in this joyful work to the despair and angst, inherent in so many of the other works on tonight's program.

Lamentation (1930): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Zoltán Kodály, Original Lighting by Martha Graham, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Katherine Crockett, Piano: Lawrence Reed Hansen. In the famous, stretch, long, purple, jersey material, Ms. Crockett again exemplified grief, in all its frailty and physicality. She evoked a mood of blackness and bleakness, squatting on a long, black bench, against a black backdrop. The hooded costume enabled Ms. Crockett to cover herself, as if in mourning, and to appear to unpeel her soul. She was highly effective in this most challenging and classic role.

Heretic (1929): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music Arranged by Charles de Sivry, Lighting by Beverly Emmons, Piano: Lawrence Reed Hansen, Performed by Fang Yi Sheu and the Company. This work is the image of starkness and contrasting emotions. The Female dancers of the Company are dressed in severe, black, long, tight dresses with heads covered, as well. They walk and dance with clenched jaws and fists, the image of self-righteousness and lack of forgiveness. The Heretic, Ms. Sheu, is costumed in contrasting white, falling prostate at their feet, every joint and muscle taught with physicality, in anguish for her life. One senses raw vulnerability.

Errand into the Maze (1947): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Gian Carlo Menotti, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Elizabeth Auclair and Gary Galbraith. This is another dance from the gut. The Minotaur, personified by Mr. Galbraith, is the exemplification of fear. He exudes sheer, violent, muscularity. With the orchestra divided on both sides of the front auditorium, and with the stark, suggestive sets of Noguchi, which are surreal symbols of nature and sexual forms, Ms. Auclair, as Ariadne, struggles against the Minotaur, conquers the Minotaur, and exorcises her inner fears and sense of inferiority. This dance is a purely psychological and physical tour de force. When Ms. Auclair emerges from the maze, and the ropes of constraint collapse onto the stage, she breathes deeply and stretches with freedom of will. The ugly Minotaur is dead. Kudos to Ms. Auclair and Mr. Galbraith for this remarkable performance.

Maple Leaf Rag (1990): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Scott Joplin, Orchestrated by Aaron Sherber, Costumes by Calvin Klein, Lighting by David Finley, Performed by Miki Orihara, Tadej Brdnik, and the Company. I had the pleasure of seeing the original production of this piece in 1990. The Toggling Board, being very adaptable, upon which the dancers rest and glide and perform various physical feats, is the one black set against the blue backdrop and the brightly colored costumes. Using the body as art, the Company performs miraculous choreography, with bent arms, elbows, and joints, to the rousing music of Scott Joplin. Ms. Grahams' close collaborator and Music Director, Louis Horst, used to play Maple Leaf Rag for her to cheer her up, during rehearsals. Tadej Brdnik was poised and elegant as the lady in flowing white, who enters and exits as one who silently marks the beginning of a new song. Again, this piece served to visually and emotionally contrast with the previous and following works, which are intense and stark.

Photos by Robert Abrams

Dark Meadow (1946): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Carlos Chávez, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Christine Daikin, Martin Lofsnes, Katherine Crockett, and the Company. A tiny, but commanding, figure onstage, in a long red and black dress, Ms. Daikin was highly effective as One Who Seeks. In this myth, in the Dark Meadow of Ate, the meadow of choice, a woman comes to pass into another area of her life. Mr. Lofsnes, as He Who Summons, was, as usual, magnetic and spiritual, with full muscularity and physicality. He is enriched with superb, technical skills. Ms. Crockett (She of the Ground) and the Company (They Who Dance Together) gave a bravura performance, with the highly symbolic, Noguchi sets, in black, red, silver, and white contrast. Ms. Crockett, in a long, green and purple, caped dress, with a crown and severe intensity and focus, moved with determination to each beat of this expressive and dissonant music.

With seeming indecision and distress, Ms. Daikin performed wide leaps, arms flailing in the wind, thighs propelling her upward and forward. The Company appeared to create formations of two, shifting balance from one partner to the other. Male dancers held female dancers' calves, enabling them to lean fully forward. In this dance, I noticed the effective use of contracted leg muscles and feet, a very primitive choreographic style.

The Graham Company will continue to perform at The Joyce Theater through February 2, 2003. This is an almost sold-out Season, so it is necessary to reserve a seat or two immediately. This Company is in rare form. Martha Graham would be so proud.

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