Above: Miki Orihara in the original costume for Graham's ERRAND INTO THE MAZE; photo by John Deane.
Saturday evening February 22, 2013 - The Martha Graham Dance Company are at The Joyce thru March 3rd with three programmes centering on themes of myth and transformation, as well as a special gala. Details of the performances and ticket information here.
Tonight's bill consisted of three Graham masterworks, each with an iconic principal female role - and each of those roles performed by one of the Graham goddesses of the 21st century: Blakeley White-McGuire as Medea in CAVE OF THE HEART, Miki Orihara as Ariadne in ERRAND, and Katherine Crockett as Jocasta in NIGHT JOURNEY. The musical scores are by three of the 20th century's leading composers: Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Menotti, and William Schuman.
In Martha Graham's CAVE OF THE HEART, the choreographer distills the story of Medea, her betrayal by Jason, and her subsequent destruction of Jason's young bride into a powerfully compact dancework. As Medea, Blakeley White-McGuire, a brilliant red-haired sorceress, gave a compelling performance - whether moving about the space with restless passion or laying in utter stillness waiting to play out her revenge, Blakeley is a riveting presence. Her marvelously spastic solo as the piece moves towards its inevitable denouement was something to behold. Tadej Brdnik's boyish handsomeness underscored Jason's ambitious heartlessness, and his striking musculature propelled him boldly thru the athletics of the choreography and the demands of the partnering. Xiaochuan Xie was a vision of loveliness as the Princess, her dancing spacious and light-filled, blissfully unaware of her impending doom. Powerful presence and physical suppleness marked the performance of Natasha Diamond-Walker as the Chorus, majestic in her black and red striped gown.
The collaboration between Martha Graham and sculptor/designer Isamu Noguchi created the look we associate with these Graham ballets. In both CAVE OF THE HEART and NIGHT JOURNEY, Noguchi's set pieces evoke a feeling of familiarity - of being in a space we have been in before. But the damage to the Company's sets and costumes caused by Storm Sandy left the decor for ERRAND INTO THE MAZE beyond repair. The sets will be re-created in time, but for the current season an alternative solution for presenting this important Graham work was needed. Choreographer Luca Veggetti, working with Miki Orihara, devised a stripped-down version of the piece, now referred to as ERRAND. Martha Graham's original choreography remains intact, but the work is presented on a bare stage, reaching to the exposed brick wall at the rear of the space. Miki, as the heroine, wears a long plain white skirt with a 'nude' leotard white Ben Schultz as the Minotaur wears only his tattoos and white briefs. The effect is absolutely stunning.
Graham's choreography feels utterfly fresh, and Miki's vulnerable qualities have never seemed so touching as here, menaced by the ominous man-bull of Ben's splendid physique. The illusions of near-nudity gave the piece a timeless, mythic quality. Miki was ravishing, the poetic expressiveness of her body illuminating the smallest nuances of gesture and movement. Ben stalked about the set like a gladiator awaiting his chances in the arena; even standing still, he posed a threat. At the end, having conquered the monstrous symbol of her fear, Miki's stance of quiet victory and her feeling of wonderment were poignantly expressed.
During the intermission I caught bits of several conversations among the crowd; people seemed to be saying that this new look at ERRAND had lifted the piece out of a somewhat dated context they'd experienced in CAVE OF THE HEART. Much as I admire Noguchi's work - and if you haven't been to the Noguchi museum in Queens you owe it to yourself - and the Graham-designed costumes, I have to say that Mr. Veggetti's take on ERRAND is a revelation. I've often wondered how Balanchine's ORPHEUS, for which Noguchi designed both sets and costumes, would look as an unadorned black-and-white ballet. In presenting this ERRAND, the Graham Company took a chance - and in my view it paid off handsomely.
In its full Noguchi-Graham decor, NIGHT JOURNEY is theatrically satisfying, yet I did find myself thinking it would hold up very well in a bare-stage-and-leotard configuration. The choreography, especially for the female ensemble (led by the beauteous and triumphant Mariya Dashkina Maddux) is striking in any event. And it did cross my mind how forceful the athletic movements of the blind seer Tiresias - a marvelous role for Abdiel Cedric Jacobsen - would seem if he was to be divested of his bulky garments. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves here: NIGHT JOURNEY is perfect as it stands, and Katherine Crockett is beyond perfect in the role of the devastated Jocasta who strangles herself on discovering she has been married to her own son, the man who killed her first husband. ("The killer of the King is a King.") Ms. Crockett, a luminous gift to the world of dance, is thrilling to behold - as much for her beauty and intensity as for her exalting extension and the evocative flow of her arms and hands. Ben Schultz polished off his demanding, two-ballet evening with a majestically tragic portrayal of the ill-fated Oedipus, the dancer's godlike physique taking on an assailable aspect as his world collapsed.
And how does the Graham repertory strike a young person today who has never experienced any of it, except for tidbits on YouTube? My twenty-something dancer-friend Alejandro was quite taken with the evening, with a special affinity for ERRAND. I'll be seeing the other two programmes of the current season, each with a "Graham virgin" as my companion. It will be interesting to see what they think.