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Martha Graham Dance Company’s virtual GrahamFest95 celebrates company’s 95th anniversary

Lorenzo Pagano and Marzia Memoli in Troy Schumacher's 'The Auditions'. Photo by Marina Levitskaya.
Lorenzo Pagano and Marzia Memoli in Troy Schumacher's 'The Auditions'. Photo by Marina Levitskaya.

The world-renowned Martha Graham Dance Company’s 95th season culminates in a three-day virtual festival featuring livestreams of Martha Graham classics, the company premiere of Elisa Monte’s signature work, Treading (1979); four solos by Sir Robert Cohan; Lamentation Variations by Kyle Abraham, Richard Move and Nicolas Paul; and the duet from Troy Schumacher’s The Auditions, created for the company in 2019. The festival also features a collaborative project with international art gallery Hauser & Wirth. This collaboration involves the creation and premiere of four films that place three Graham dances and one Cohan work in conversation with the works of four acclaimed visual artists — Rita Ackermann, Mary Heilmann, Luchita Hurtado and Rashid Johnson. The festival wraps up with a closing-night Zoom cocktail event with the dancers. GrahamFest95 runs April 30-May 2. 

Xin Ying in Martha Graham's 'Satyric Festival Song'. Photo by Hibbard Nash Photography.
Xin Ying in Martha Graham’s
‘Satyric Festival Song’.
Photo by Hibbard Nash Photography.

“This past year has required us to embrace — if not celebrate — uncertainty and change,” says Artistic Director Janet Eilber. “Our physical survival has depended on distancing, and our artistic and spiritual survival has depended on discovering new ways to connect. GrahamFest95 will showcase a range of experimental digital offerings, as well as the first steps in the return to live performance. Our collaborations with great Graham alumni Elisa Monte and Sir Robert Cohan, as well as those with some of today’s most extraordinary visual artists, speak to both the past and the future of our creative legacy. We see the festival not so much as the end of a challenging year but as a launch into whatever our 96th season and beyond may hold.” 

GrahamFest95 will feature renowned choreographer and former Graham principal dancer Elisa Monte’s landmark duet Treading. Set to music by Steve Reich, this mesmerizing, critically acclaimed work was commissioned by Martha Graham and created while Monte was a dancer with the company. Eilber and Monte will discuss Graham’s roles for women and how Treading came to be. 

“It is with great pleasure that I continue to be a part of Martha’s remarkable sphere of creation,” says Monte. “Martha offered me the opportunity to create in 1979, when I was a dancer in her company. Now, after a 40-year span, I joyfully return to close the circle of a creative path. Treading was a labor of love, and I offer it back in admiration of Martha’s genius. She challenged all those she admired, and I welcomed her challenge and am grateful for it. It propelled me to who and what I am.” 

The festival will also feature works by another Graham alumnus, the legendary Sir Robert Cohan, considered the founder of contemporary dance in the UK. The solos Lloyd and Lorenzo from Afternoon Conversations with Dancers will be presented along with two excerpts from Communion, Cohan’s last major group work, set to music by Nils Frahm.

The films created in collaboration with Hauser & Wirth pair four artists represented by the gallery with dance works that resonate with each artist’s work. 

Rita Ackermann’s Mama Paintings are layered compositions of figurative drawings and bold gestural abstractions in paint. Her images are the product of automatic gestures, a subconscious unfolding on canvas. These are paired with the newly reimagined Immediate Tragedy, Graham’s solo representing a woman’s challenge to move forward against all odds.

Lloyd Mayor and Lloyd Knight in Kyle Abraham's 'Lamentation Variation'. Photo by Brigid Pierce.
Lloyd Mayor and Lloyd Knight in
Kyle Abraham’s ‘Lamentation Variation’.
Photo by Brigid Pierce.

Mary Heilmann’s wit and colorful geometric paintings are presented with Satyric Festival Song, one of Graham’s abstract modernist solos, performed by Xin Ying.

Luchita Hurtado created a series of abstract paintings that, like Graham’s Dark Meadow, evoke a figure in the landscape of the American Southwest. Both artists use a spiritual simplicity that references space and the body as metaphors. Hurtado’s work will be seen in relation to Saraband, the duet from Dark Meadow

Rashid Johnson’s series, titled Anxious Red Paintings, renders an audience of anxious faces in red oil stick. This is paired with a solo by Robert Cohan in which a man slowly trembles and crumbles before our eyes. Lloyd Knight, who collaborated with Johnson on The Hikers in 2019, will dance the solo. 

Graham solos Deep SongSpectre-1914 and My River Runs to Thee from Letter to the World and duets Conversations of Lovers and Moonfrom Canticle for Innocent Comedians will also be presented. 

GrahamFest95 will run April 30-May 2. For tickets and more information, visit www.marthagraham.org.

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