GO: Martha Graham Dance Company at the Joyce (UPDATE Sunday: Eva Yaa Asantewaa responds)

I haven’t been a big fan–until now. Whatever Janet Eilber, hired last year as artistic director, is doing to get the dancers to find the drama in the timing and the steps is working wonders. My sense is she’s honoring their own hunches, and they naturally go for clarity and suggestion over cartoon.
Anyway, here’s my Newsday review.
The New York run continues through next Sunday, September 23. Then the company does mainly one-night stands in Seattle, Tucson, Cleveland, and up and down the East coast through mid-November.
In New York, try to catch demi-goddess Katherine Crockett in “Night Journey”–one last chance next Thursday, September 20.
Miki Orihara in the Graham-Copland wonder “Appalachian Spring” next Friday, Sept. 21, and in “Sketches from ‘Chronicle'” with Jennifer DePalo, an amazing grieving warmonger Medusa (or some improbable brew of characters), next Saturday, Sept. 22, would also be worth a trip.
Among the men, keep an eye out for newcomer David Martinez and relative newcomer Maurizio Nardi. Graham didn’t think much of men–brutish babies, all!–so it’s always a nice surprise when a dancer manages to restore their dignity–or juice.
Also, good news for those of you who didn’t make it to opening night, with its piece d’occasion “Lamentation Variations”– one variation apiece by contemporary choreographers Aszure Barton, Larry Keigwin, and Richard Move: one of the three variations will be performed each night.
I’m a Barton enthusiast, but her variation seems slight, taking too little from the enormous Graham legacy generally and from the 1930 solo “Lamentation” in particular. Keigwin and Move, on the other hand, created gems. Their variations both stand on their own and pay tribute to Graham and this specific 9-11 occasion.
In the Move, Katherine Crockett travels along a shaft of light, her body thrown back as if by force and one arm crooked over her face to shield it like a broken wing. Without using Graham’s lexicon, Move shares her capacity to get a single part of the body to spark shifting associations.
Keigwin created a group work to a Chopin prelude (or is it a nocturne?) so familiar, it’s amazing he can get it to speak. The five-minute dance is disturbing–unflinching. We start with vanity a la Dorian Gray–individuals examining their faces for signs of aging (in a department store window?), tapping their fingers out of restless boredom–then shift without warning to Ecclesiastes’ kind: “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity…. One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.”
It may not have much to do with Graham except in her masterfully sly way of driving a drama forward, but the Keigwin piece has everything to do with 9-11, how we can be vain and silly and it’s still terrible that we die.
Legendary dance writer Francis Mason commissioned the variations. (He’s the writer responsible for the indispensible tome “Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets.”) YAY for him!
Eva, Sunday:
My teaching schedule kept me away from opening night, but I did catch the performance of “Cave of the Heart,” “Embattled Garden” and “Acts of Light.”
Tadej Brdnik (in “Embattled Garden”) and Maurizio Nardi (in “Acts of Light”) are the ones I watch because they appear to be living the dance in the moment, Brdnik especially, where otherwise so much of it can look canned. They’ve tapped into a spring, and it makes whatever they’re doing matter.
Apollinaire responds: Brave of you, Eva, to risk a program with so many later Graham works. I haven’t seen the 1981 “Acts of Light,” but in general I’ve found anything of Graham’s post 1950 hard to take.
She’s begun to canonize herself–that is, feels done for and ready to die–so she choreographs as if she only had the steps she’d always had and would simply have to recycle them for other purposes. It’s hard to make work breath that’s so intent on embalming itself.
Still, I agree about Nardi and Brdnik (though could the Italian please lend the Slovenian some vowels? You know, for American clods like me). Nardi as the wiley Stranger (a.k.a snake) in “Embattled Garden,” the story of Adam and Eve and interloping snake (along with his girlfriend, Lillith, here a loose Spaniard), was perfect, and Brdnik in “Night Journey” revealed Oedipus as he ought to be seen–through Jocasta’s eyes. He’s a dumbfounded baby, in way over his head.
Eva responds: No bravery involved. With my personal and professional schedule this fall, it was either see that program or see no Graham at all. Lucky me, huh? But Brdnik and Nardi made the evening for me. I’m always grateful to see dancing that reaches me with or without a rewarding context.
[Ed. note: Eva mentioned her teaching above: In case you don’t know, she’s teaching dance writing at Dance Theater Workshop in Manhattan, and I’m sure it’s a fantastic course. The fall session has begun, but there will likely be more in the near future. Here’s a description of the current course. Anyone interested in participating in the future can email Richert Schnorr at richert@dtw.org.]

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