Joyce Theater, New York
March 16 2012
By Stephanie Wolf.
The crème de la crème of New York’s modern dance scene gathered on Friday night to pay tribute to one of modern dance’s most prominent figures as the Martha Graham Dance Company took center stage at the one and only Joyce Theater. It was an evening of drama and dancing, as only Graham herself could envision it. The performance acknowledged the company’s rich history, while welcoming its bright future.
Before the dancers entered the stage, the audience was treated to Beautiful Captives, a video montage by Peter Sparling. It was an endearing multimedia collage with snippets of Graham and cinematic dancing, which appropriately set the mood for the evening. The old-timey ambiance was then greatly juxtaposed by the primitive solo Witch Dance, featuring the choreography of another great modern dance pioneer – Mary Wigman.
Once the audience had fully digested these dancing ‘hors d’oeuvres’ the evening progressed into the more iconic work of the Graham Company, starting off with Graham’s 1939 exploration of a foolish woman’s psyche titled Every Soul is a Circus. Graham’s flair for over the top drama, complicated storylines, and intriguing costumes is not for everyone. And, perhaps, Every Soul is a Circus’s conceptual dialogue goes on a bit too long. But what Graham does show in these early works is how ahead of her time she was, as a choreographer and conversationalist. She tackled complicated storylines, which typically featured a female as the lead character, and created work that was truly original and forced her audience to think and feel.
From a woman’s muddled thoughts in the big ring, the evening took a darker turn with Lamentation Variations. The work is an inspired concept and proved to be a true testament to Graham’s significance in the future of modern dance. Based on Graham’s iconic solo Lamentations, the company commissioned seven current choreographers to create new “variations”. Friday night featured the variations of Azure Barton, Richard Move, and Lar Lubovitch. Each choreographer brought a new and stunning interpretation of Graham’s solo about a grieving woman.
It’s difficult to name a standout from the three because they all highlighted different aspects of the work. Barton created a moving duet for two ladies, which was danced sublimely by company members Miki Orihara and Mariya Daskina Maddux. She focused on the anguish, having the dancers use every fiber of their being to portray the grief. Move chose to keep the piece a solo and created an engaging number on Katherine Crockett – whose superhero strength and extensions hypnotized the audience, as she steadily made her way across the stage towards a bright light. Utilizing the entire company, Lubovitch’s rendition closed out the series of variations and played on Graham’s use of timing and unique costuming.
What better way to close out a night that pays homage to Graham, than featuring her 1947 Night Journey? The work highlights the infamous story of King Oedipus and his tragic prophecy. However, rather than focusing on Oedipus’s demise, Graham placed the emphasis of the ballet on his wife/mother/queen Jocasta; once again making the central figure a woman. Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch was a wonderful Jocasta, embodying the drama in her every move and facial expression. And Blakeley White-McGuire led the Daughters of the Night with unrivaled strength and confidence. All the dancers performed exceptionally and Night Journey was a perfect representation of why Graham’s choreography and technique still has relevance in today’s society.
All and all, it was a great evening to be out and about, experiencing some of New York City’s finest in dance. Additionally, it’s reassuring to know that dancers, choreographers, and directors will never forget where they came from and who inspired them to pursue this difficult profession. But, at the same time, they all look towards the future of dance and greet its possibilities with open arms.