Martha Graham Dance Company in Program A at the Joyce: Powerful and vulnerable

Martha Graham Dance Company's Marzia Memoli, Lloyd Knight, Anne Souder and Xin Ying in Martha Graham's 'Cave of the Heart'. Photo by Melissa Sherwood.
Martha Graham Dance Company's Marzia Memoli, Lloyd Knight, Anne Souder and Xin Ying in Martha Graham's 'Cave of the Heart'. Photo by Melissa Sherwood.

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY.
April 18, 2023.

The Martha Graham Dance Company, age 97 and America’s oldest, premiered its spring season at the Joyce Theater in mid-April to a nearly sold-out house of devoted fans. The Joyce Theater, designed specifically to accommodate small to mid-sized dance companies, is a lovely venue to watch dance with every seat in the house providing a stellar view of the stage. For this performance, a stellar view was the only acceptable one, and kept with the stellar dancing and choreography being presented.

The Graham season at the Joyce showed four different programs, a Gala night and family matinee. All together, the company danced nine works – five by Graham herself, and the remaining four from current choreographers (including two world premieres). The opening night presentation included Dark Meadow Suite (Graham), Get Up, My Daughter (Annie Rigney), Cortege 2023 (Baye & Asa) and Cave of the Heart (Graham).

The difference between the Graham works and the newer choreography was noticeable, in the way that fashion in the 1940s (when she created both pieces) differs from the styles of today. Unifying the program together, however, was the truly exceptional dancing from the company.

Graham technique is notoriously difficult, technical and challenging to master. The contractions, releases and spirals central to her choreography have the potential to appear laborious – or completely freeing. In each work, the honed skills of the dancers in the company applied these elements in ways that left one marveling. To watch dancers be so grounded and so free, simultaneously, was always a gift.

Maintaining the integrity and vitality of a well-established and deeply regarded company such as Martha Graham Dance Company is a challenge for many modern companies that came into existence in the 1940s and 1950s. What was groundbreaking then is certainly not anymore, even though the work itself often ages brilliantly. However, bringing in new works and fresh choreographers is integral to bringing in new audiences, considering new ideas and seeing the progression from the “cornerstone of modern dance,” as Graham technique is often called, to the less codified contemporary dance we see today. In this performance, the differences complimented each other, showed how the fundamentals of quality know no era, and that dancers being powerful and vulnerable onstage will always authentically resonate with audiences.

By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.

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