Tuesday May 18, 2010 - Two excerpts from
Charles Weidman's 1967 EASTER ORATORIO were presented at the Baryshnikov Arts Center: Branches and Fugue were staged for dancers from NYU by Janet Towner, assisted by
presentation was part of a full evening production currently in
preparation - a major project designed to re-introduce the classic works
choreographer Charles Weidman (above) to a new generation of dance enthusiasts.
The full evening will consist of highlights from Weidman's final
statements inspired by three of the great oratorios of J.S. Bach: The
Oratorio, The Christmas Oratorio, and the Saint
Passion, placed within orchestral interludes of Bach, creating a fabric of dance and music by two masters.
From a 1985 New York Times story: "Mr. Weidman said that he originally planned to be an architect and that he had been especially fascinated by the architecture of ancient Egypt and Greece. But when he saw Ruth St. Denis in a dance pageant about Egypt, Greece and India, he knew he wanted to be a dancer instead. Nevertheless, his architectural training must have proved invaluable, for the most successful works on the memorial program emphasized choreographic architecture."
The dancers taking a bow after the presentation.
The sense of architecture was clear in the two excerpts presented tonight: a ceremonial trio for three women entitled Branches and the celebratory Fugue danced by a large ensemble. The young dancers were from the Tisch School of NYU and they showed notable musicality, nobility of expression and pride of movement to a high degree, making the Weidman patterns flow with natural grace. The musicians of American Virtuosi provided live music for Branches; I believe the eventual plan is that they will perform the finished work in its entirety. What struck me was how ideally the Weidman choreography mirrored the music and how seamlessly the structure of movement flowed on the Bach melodies. Young choreographers today would do well to observe Weidman's work which is rooted - like Balanchine's - in the music.
Reconstructing the works has been painstaking: at the time of their creation, the idea of video-recording the entire choreographic process and archiving taped performances was still a long way off. John Claassen told me that aside from a few murky film clips, there was little documentation of how the works should look. The re-creation process relied mainly on the memories of dancers who took part, some of who were present tonight.
Harpsichordist Kenneth Hamrick of American Virtuosi shared this quote from Jose Limon with the audience: "Dancers are musicians are dancers". It's an idea which Weidman's work conveys.
Charles Weidman with Denishawn in 1923; among the women are Doris Humphrey and Louise Brooks; the work is entitled Sonata Tragica. Weidman, along with Ms. Humphrey, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, were founding spirits of modern dance in America. In the days when I frequented Jacob's Pillow, Weidman's name was prominent in the Festival's history, and photos and playbills from his works were on display. Tonight the Weidman/Bach Project brought the choreographer into the present where his work looks very much at home. I look forward to watching the progress of this undertaking in the months to come.