Above: Martha Graham, 1943
Wednesday March 14, 2012 - The Martha Graham Dance Company in a gala evening at New York's City Center; Fang-Yi Sheu and the great ballerina Diana Vishneva appeared as guest artists with the spectacular dancers of the Graham company. It was one of the most completely satisfying evenings of dance I've encountered over the past four decades. It was in fact a perfect night in every regard, with an early curtain, no intermission, minimal pre-performance talk (Janet Eilber simply spoke of what we'd be seeing and made note of the fact that Miki Orihara is celebrating twenty-five years with the Graham Company), pin-drop silence from the audience during the dancing, and nary a child in sight.
The evening opened on a celebratory note with a classic performance of the duet from APPALACHIAN SPRING danced by Tadej Brdik and Miki Orihara (a John Deane photo above). This beloved partnership bristled with youthful energy and ebullient movement in this breath-of-Spring duet. Many moons ago, these same two dancers appeared in this same piece at Jacob's Pillow, my very first encounter with a Graham work. So wonderful to see them again tonight, as graceful and exuberant as ever.
Diana Vishneva (above) is a ballerina who likes to push the boundaries of her repertoire; Miki Orihara coached Vishneva in ERRAND INTO THE MAZE and the result was a thrilling performance in every regard. Moving about Isamu Noguchi's spare but evocative set, Vishneva used her supple body as an expressive instrument, and her sense of urgency was well-conveyed in facial expression and gesture. With Gian-Carlo Menotti's dramatic score as a springboard, the ballerina made her excursion into another style a complete success. Her vivid performance was matched by that of her nemesis, dance by Abdiel Jacobsen. With his splendid physique, this dancer effortlessly sustained the attitude poses that the choreographer calls for, meanwhile providing a menacing counter-point to Vishneva's richly feminine portrayal.
Katherine Crockett (above) gave a spectacular performance in DIVERSION OF ANGELS; on an evening when goddesses bestrode the stage, Katherine's luminous presence, her combination of the regal and the sensuous, made her performance as the Woman in White fascinating. She was partnered by Samuel Pott.
Blakeley White-McGuire (above, in Red, with Ms. Crockett) likewise gave a gorgeous performance with her sweeping extension and fleet traversals of the stage. Dancing with Tadej Brdnik, Blakeley riveted our attention whenever she was onstage.
Youthful lyricism marked the dancing of the third woman in DIVERSION: Xiaochuan Xie, the Woman in Yellow (above). Joyous energy wafted this beautiful dancer thru her combinations, with Lloyd Knight her toweingly protective cavalier.
With its colourful score by Norman Dello Joio, this dancework about the romantic sensibilities of three women (or perhaps it is one woman at different stages of her feminine development) is further enhanced by the finely-structured passages for the supporting ensemble who danced gloriously tonight and propelled the performance to a peak of perfection.
After watching a studio rehearsal of Graham's 1936 masterpiece CHRONICLE last week, I was glad of the opportunity to see it staged, with Fang-Yi Sheu (above) as guest artist in the central role. Seated alone on a small platform, the dancer begins the extended solo SPECTRE - 1914 which opens this magnificent dancework. Fang-Yi Sheu's performance was sublime, both in the spacious grandeur of her dancing and her nuanced dramatic portrayal.
In three parts and set to a dynamic score by Wallingford Riegger, CHRONICLE resonates with anti-war sentiment as well as with the propulsive energy of the all-female ensemble who appear in the second and third movements.
As the women flow across the space in combinations varying from ritualistic to athletic, CHRONICLE builds into a manifesto of feminine solidarity. In a brief appearance, Katherine Crockett again makes a memorable impression by simply walking slowly and pensively across the stage.
A radiant Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch (above) appears as a priestess-like figure. CHRONICLE lasts a half-hour but it swept by all too quickly, and it moved immediately to the highest echelon of danceworks that are most particuarly fascinating and meaningful to me.
There's more Martha Graham to be seen at The Joyce this week, including a special night (Sunday, March 18th) devoted to celebrating Miki Orihara's anniversary.