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The Church hosted Martha Graham Dance Company as the first artists in residency

Jacob Larsen. Photo by David Bazemore.
Jacob Larsen. Photo by David Bazemore.

The Church, a new artist residency, exhibition space and creative center in the village of Sag Harbor, recently hosted the Martha Graham Dance Company for a two-week residency from February 8-21.

The Church in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.
The Church in Sag Harbor.
Photo by Michael Heller.

This collaboration marked the inauguration of The Church. Housed in a deconsecrated 19th century Methodist church, The Church aspires to be a place where local and national artists, creatives and thinkers can work, meet and inspire. Artists Eric Fischl and April Gornik bought the building as a shell three years ago and have led its redesign with Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership. The modern interior is a complement to its historical frame and emblematic of the contemporary program of events that will now animate this historical structure. The Church will increase access to the arts for its diverse audiences, foster creativity on the East End, and honor Sag Harbor’s long tradition as a maker’s village.

The Graham Company residency at The Church brought two choreographers and three dancers to stay in the artists’ residency at The Church and to use its main floor as a studio.

Leslie Andrea Williams. Photo by David Bazemore.
Leslie Andrea Williams.
Photo by David Bazemore.

Sara Cochran, executive director of The Church, says, “We were delighted to be working with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Their living legacy of innovation and reinvention is a testament to the power of culture to transcend time and place. Although due to the COVID-19 pandemic we were not able to welcome an audience in-person to see this project, we were excited to use live-streaming to give a window into the company’s exciting work and process of reimagination at The Church.”

Sonya Tayeh.
Sonya Tayeh.

During this residency, the Graham Company launched a project inspired by a 1952 work by Martha Graham. The piece, Canticle for Innocent Comedians, was hailed in its time as Graham’s magical “ode to nature,” but it was never filmed and is considered lost. Drawing on the ideas and an outline of Graham’s original work, choreographers Sonya Tayeh and Jenn Freeman worked with Graham dancers Lorenzo Pagano, Leslie Andrea Williams and Jacob Larsen to build the foundation for a brand new version of Canticle. They created solos and experimented with movement motifs that will be developed and expanded for a cast of 10 dancers in coming months. The completed new version of Canticle will premiere in late 2021.

Lorenzo Pagano. Photo by Hibbard Nash.
Lorenzo Pagano.
Photo by Hibbard Nash.

Graham Company Artistic Director Janet Eilber adds, “The residency brings to mind a well-known quote from Martha Graham: ‘Wherever a dancer stands is holy ground.’ That idea couldn’t be more appropriate to our residency at The Church. Along with the beautiful and inspiring space this new center offers, the idea of the past informing the present and the future resonates through the site as it does through our work. I know it provided a stimulating atmosphere for our choreographic explorations in February.” 

The Emmy and Tony Award-winning choreographer Sonya Tayeh is the lead choreographer for Canticle. Jenn Freeman, a new and notable choreographic voice, will assist Tayeh, and contribute sections of her own choreography. The three Graham dancers are all favorites of Graham audiences. Graham Company Artistic Director Janet Eilber will oversee the rehearsals and participate in live-streaming of the process.

For more information, visit www.sagharborchurch.org.

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