Above: Mariya Dashkina Maddux and Lloyd Mayor in Martha Graham's APPALACHIAN SPRING; photo by Hibbard Nash
Thursday October 30th, 2014 - Friends of the Martha Graham Dance Company gathered this evening at the Company's home space on Bethune Street to celebrate the 70th birthday of the great American dance classic, APPALACHIAN SPRING. The event, Appalachian Spring Up Close and Personal – a complete performance of APPALACHIAN SPRING in costume and with the classic Noguchi set pieces - came on the exact 70th anniversary of its premiere, October 30, 1944.
This once-in-a-lifetime event also featured film clips and projected photographs from the premiere, and a spoken introduction with quotes from Martha Graham’s correspondence with Aaron Copland at the time of the ballet's creation. Mariya Dashkina Maddux headed the cast in Graham’s role of The Bride. She was joined by Lloyd Mayor, Natasha Diamond-Walker, Lloyd Knight, Xiaochuan Xie, Ying Xin, Charlotte Landreau, and Lauren Newman. This was my first opportunity to see Masha, Natasha, and Lloyd Mayor in these roles; Lloyd Knight repeated the role of the Preacher in which he was wonderfully cast during the Company's City Center season earlier this year.
This brief film features some of the dancers who have performed the principal roles in this ballet over the years.
Janet Eilber, the artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, is always such a wonderful hostess at Company events. Her speaking voice falls pleasingly on the ear and the information she imparts is always meaningful and illuminating to the dance we are about to see. This evening, Janet's voice faltered tearfully as she spoke the names of the immortal dancers who first performed APPALACHIAN SPRING seventy years ago: Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, May O'Donnell, and Merce Cunningham.
And then APPALACHIAN SPRING unfolded before us in all its heartfelt glory, the dancing taking place just a few feet away from us. The timeless simplicity of the Noguchi setting tells us immediately where we are; and for tonight we seemed in fact to be very much a part of the action, like observant guests at the wedding.
Mariya Dashkina Maddux gave a powerfully poetic interpretation of the role of The Bride, her eyes shining and filled with hope, her body fluently expressive. Lloyd Mayor's Husbandman danced with a spacious energy that could fill the Great Plains. In both the expansive and the intimate moments of this role, Lloyd's handsome presence was captivating. Together Masha and Lloyd brought all the hopes of youth and forward-looking courage to their portrayals of this iconic couple.
Natasha Diamond-Walker, lithe and elegant of posture and surpassingly fair of face, danced vividly as the Pioneering Woman. The strength of her dancing matches the character's strength of virtue, yet Natasha was also deeply feminine in her portrayal and in her womanly rapport with Masha's young Bride. Lloyd Knight's Preacher was a powerful force in his stillness and a dynamic force when he danced. His vivid delineation of the steps underscored the great demands Graham puts on her dancers: technique and theatrical nuance must mesh in perfect balance. These demands extend to the quartet of Followers - Xiaochuan Xie, Ying Xin, Charlotte Landreau, and Lauren Newman - who have a great deal of tricky dancing to do, though we tend to view them more for their decorative loveliness.
The performance overall marked one of the most engrossing and meaningful dance experiences in my long 'career', in part because of the intimacy of the setting, and also because of the sense of dance as a resonating continuum that draws us ever back into the past whilst time and the universe sail inevitably forward. Evenings like this serve as illuminated markers on our journey.
In a beautiful gesture at the end of the performance, the Lloyds (Mayor and Knight) presented bouquets to Janet Eilber and to Denise Vale, the Company's senior artistic associate. Both Janet and Denise have danced the Pioneering Woman in APPALACHIAN SPRING, and thus the sense of lineage in the realm of Graham was graciously underscored.