Martha Graham Dance Company shines in spring season ‘American Legacies’

Martha Graham Dance Company in Agnes de Mille's 'Rodeo'. Photo by Carla Lopez, Luque Photography.
Martha Graham Dance Company in Agnes de Mille's 'Rodeo'. Photo by Carla Lopez, Luque Photography.

New York City Center, New York, NY.
April 20, 2024.

The Martha Graham Dance Company was founded in 1926, making it the oldest in the United States and one of the oldest worldwide. The 2024 New York City Center season marks the start of a three-year celebration to commemorate the centennial birthday, and the party is off to an amazing start. The spring season, entitled American Legacies, featured six works over the course of four nights. On the eve of my attendance, the company performed Rodeo, We The People and CAVE.

Rodeo, the 1942 work by Agnes de Mille, opened the show with live music by bluegrass band The Gabe Witcher Sextet performing an new arrangement of the Aaron Copeland original. The story of a cowgirl who doesn’t fit in with either the gents or the ladies until she dons a skirt served as a reminder of the struggles women went through, and continue to go through. Marzia Memoli played the Cowgirl role with an earnest hope that was heartbreaking to watch – her natural embodiment of the stylized movement allowed the purity of acting to shine as well, and left me sad for the Cowgirl, who had to change who she was to fit in. The entire cast mastered the physical comedy aspect of the story, a treat to see such exceptional dancers dance something less “serious.”

We The People, a Jamar Roberts commission set to the eclectic folk music of Rhiannon Giddens, takes us from the rose-colored-glasses-historical-folk world of Rodeo to the current day struggle of the “people” against the very real atrocities in the world and the enduring quest for social justice. This world — stark in tone, with a persistent cloud of smoke and mist hovering about the dancers who were costumed in denim (head to toe) — made no effort to spit shine the resistance. The vagueness of the specifics in narrative in no way diminish the power of intent. Choosing a score with roots born of country people coming together to make music buoyed the message of collective power and protest. The group sections were pristine, and the solos throughout gave the piece a deep level of humanity. Brilliantly, the work sustained a sense of hope amongst the real grievances that accompany protest.

CAVE, the 2022 work from Hofesh Shechter, closed the night with its high energy, group-oriented rave-style choreography. At first glance, it could be chaos, but it’s a more of an orchestrated journey in and out of a dance floor and a stage. Influenced by the ideas of raw human spirit, Shechter utilizes the pedestrian moves of rave dancing to create a driving piece of dance where the collective spirit of the human spirit reigns.

If the City Center season of 2024 is only the beginning of the three-year celebration of Martha Graham Dance Company’s 100 years in existence, what’s to come has potential to showcase some of the best choreography and dancing out there – just as it has in the decades before.

By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top