Above: Katherine Crockett and Ben Schultz of the Martha Graham Dance Company rehearsing Graham's PHAEDRA. Photo by Jade Young.
Click on the images to enlarge.
Monday October 15, 2012 - The large and history-rich space at Westbeth which is now the home of the Martha Graham Dance Company has become one of my favorite and most meaningful dance destinations. On this late afternoon in mid-October, photographer Jade Young and I were invited to the studio where the Company were rehearsing two Graham works: RITE OF SPRING and PHAEDRA. RITE OF SPRING has not been performed for about twenty years, and PHAEDRA was last danced about a decade ago. Denise Vale supervises the revivals of the Graham repertoire, and watching her work is one of the main pleasures of spending time at Westbeth.
In 2013 we honor the 100th anniversary of the the scandalous premiere of the Nijinsky/Stravinsky RITE OF SPRING which took place in Paris on May 29th, 1913. The ballet reached American shores in 1930 when Martha Graham danced the Chosen One in Massine's 1920 realization of the piece. In 1984, Martha Graham's own vision of RITE was given its world premiere at the New York State Theater.
At today's rehearsal, which was run by Ken Topping, ensemble passages (above) were being worked on with attention to spacing and to the musicality of certain phrases. The score is of course notoriously difficult to count but dancers over the years have become accustomed to it.
The ballet in Graham's rendering is both a ritual and an intense dramatic narrative. From what I was able to observe today, it is a richly structured and detailed work which I cannot wait to see fully staged, costumed and lit. We'll have the opportunity when the Graham Company appear at The Joyce February 20th thru March 3rd, 2013. They will also perform the work in North Carolina as part of a festival celebating one hundred years of RITE:
Performing Arts at The University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill have announced an exceptional
two-night program as part of their The Rite of Spring at 100 season. On April 26th and April 27th, 2013, Myth & Transformation
by the renowned Martha Graham Dance Company will bring to a conclusion
the performance season of this unprecedented nine-month festival
celebrating the centennial of the premiere of the Stravinsky-Nijinsky-Roerich masterpiece.
Myth & Transformation will feature performances of Graham’s powerful The Rite of Spring, which has not been seen by audiences in twenty years, and the much-beloved Graham classic Appalachian Spring; the world premiere of a work choreographed by Nacho Duato to music of Arvo Pärt, and performances by guest artist Wendy Whelan, principal dancer from the New York City Ballet."
That is exciting news indeed!!
But: back to today's rehearsal...after a break, a long scene from PHAEDRA was rehearsed. This Graham ballet was once deemed so shocking by two members of Congress that they protested the use of State Department funds for its performance on a Graham company tour in Europe. The two worthy Congressmen's reaction was wrong-headed, since things do not end well for Phaedra; the gods punish her immoral longings. But apparently the two legislators did not stay at the performance long enough to find out.
But that seems like foolish political history now. Today we watched a quartet of Graham dancers bring the piece vividly to life, led by the remarkable Katherine Crockett (above) in the title-role. The ballet, set to a dramatic score by Robert Starer, tells of Phaedra's obsession with her stepson Hippolytus. the dancers in the run-thru we watched were Katherine Crockett, Ben Schultz, Andrea Murillo and Mariya Dashkina-Maddux. They performed with the intensity one might expect in a staged performance.
Katherine and Andrea, above.
It was regrettable that Jade had to leave at this point, for a second cast of dancers for PHAEDRA led by Blakeley White-McGuire and Tadej Brdnik took over the space. We shall have to wait for another opportunity to photograph them. With their powerful and wonderfully indivdual personalities, the dancers of each cast brought out different aspects of the drama. I could have watched and watched and gone on watching...
For that is the thing about these works and these dancers: an endless fascination both with the actual movement as we watch it, but also with the sense of dance history that one feels in the experience: a history in which Martha Graham wrote a bold and epic chapter.
You can read more about Graham's PHAEDRA here, with a very impressive album of production photos from the 2003 performances of the ballet at The Joyce.
More of Jade's images from this rehearsal will appear here soon.