Above: Tadej Brdnik and Blakeley White-McGuire in Martha Graham's PHAEDRA. Photo: Costas.
Sunday matinee February 24th, 2013 - The Martha Graham Dance Company continue their season at The Joyce with a striking double bill: Graham's PHAEDRA (not performed for a decade) and the Company's premiere performances of Richard Move's THE SHOW (Achilles Heels).
I had had the good fortune to see a studio rehearsal of PHAEDRA in October; and more recently, I had a sneak peek at a segment of THE GAME at a private showing. Finally today I got to see these two sharply contrasted works in their full glory, and I brought my friend Joe along who was having his first experience of Graham. It was a great afternoon.
In PHAEDRA, Robert Starer's score propels the dancers as they move amidst the Noguchi-designed set pieces. This story of forbidden love - Phaedra becomes obsessed with her young step-son Hippolytus - caused the threat of a Congressional censure when it was first performed in 1962, so wildly did it offend the government's guardians of morality. It seems far less shocking today, but still potent thanks to the remarkable performances of Blakeley White-McGuire as Phaedra, Maurizio Nardi as Hippolytus and Tadej Brdnik as Theseus. Ms. Blakeley-White is riveting to watch as she regsters the spectrum of Phaedra's emotions: lust, tenderness, remorse, guilt. Blakeley's body was made to dance Graham: from her expressive hands and gorgeous torsol contractions to her marvelously 'wrapped' feet, she makes her entire physique a vessel of communicative grace. Maurizio Nardi has the enviable combination of the sleek, smooth body to make him a believable youth with the artistic maturity to give the character of Hippolytus depth. Tadej Brdnik handsome face and strikingly muscled frame are grandly invested in his portrayal of Theseus; the only "problem" being that Tadej looks too young to be the father of a grown son.
The beauteous Mariya Dashkina Maddux as Artemis holds a statue-like pose for minutes on end without moving a centimeter. She later bursts free, dancing dynamically whilst firing off her arrows. Xiaochuan Xie as Aphrodite emerged and retreated from her pink-cloud cocoon to meddle in the fates of the muddled mortals: her enchanting performance pleased the audience greatly. Equally lovely but playing a darker role, PeiJu Chen Potts danced Parsiphea's solo superbly; of her character (Phaedra's mother) Ovid memorably said: "Pasiphaë took pleasure in becoming an adulteress with a bull." The men of the Graham Company looked great in their decorative briefs; their ensemble dance was powerful and they wove thru the action in smaller roles, always drawing the eye with their physical attributes.
THE SHOW (Achilles Heels) is Richard Move's send-up of the story of the end of the Trojan War. The expected characters appear but not always as we might imagine them. A pre-recorded narrative (featuring the voices of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Deborah Harry) is lip-synced by the dancers. In this pan-sexual ballet, men wear stiletto heels and women speak in baritonal voices. Achilles, vain and unspeakably beautiful, is ideally personified by the boyishly cocky Lloyd Mayor. As a paragon of male perfection, he's matched by his mythic love Patroclus in the person of Abdiel Jacobsen: their intmate post-workout duet is ideally handled by Mr. Move: it borders on the erotic but keeps us tantalized.
Katherine Crockett as Helen of Troy makes the face (and form) that launched a thousand ships totally believable, her majestic figure and queenly extension entice us at her every move. Blakeley White-McGuire revels in the theatricality of playing a game-show hostess who just happens to be the goddess Athena. She also joins Mariya Dashkina Maddux and Natasha Diamond-Walker as a Andrews Sisters-like trio of commentators. Ms. Diamond-Walker's topless solo as Xanthus (Achilles' horse) was so artfully managed that her nudity transcended mere decorativeness. Tadej Brdnik appeared in different guises as the ballet unfolds, and Ben Schultz always drew our gaze with his godlike presence - and he should feel free to uncover his wonderful tattoos.
THE GAME weaves songs by Deborah Harry - notably "Beautiful Creature" which certainly is apt for Mr. Mayor's Achilles - into a composed score by Arto Lindsay. Today the music seemed just a little too loud to be ideally savoured. The opening segment of moody darkish dancing (though finely executed) seems rather too long: let's get into the narrative! And later there are places which might be pruned down to the overall advantage of the work. But the concept is novel and it really does work. For all the game-show glitz and zany juxtaposition of voices to characters, there are also wonderfully moving moments, most notably the death of Patroclus with its fluttering dove. The Graham dancers gave the piece their all.