Above: Katherine Crockett of the Martha Graham Dance Company, photo by Matt Murphy
Sunday Matinee March 3rd, 2013 - This exciting programme by the Martha Graham Dance Company opened with an especially powerful performance of Graham's CAVE OF THE HEART. In this 1946 masterpiece, set to a score by Samuel Barber, Graham conveys the story of Medea, her betrayal by Jason, and her subsequent revenge in a dramatic distillation for four dancers. Graham's narrative does not extend to Medea's murdering of her sons, but ends with the death of Jason's new bride after she receives a poisoned tiara from the sorceress.
Miki Orihara as Medea broods beautifully on her vengeance, laying in stillness yet vitally attentive to Jason's newfound happiness. Bursting into action, Miki's physical intensity is something to behold as her entire body tingles with expressive passion. This is a treasurable performance in which Miki becomes every woman who has ever been wronged. Tadej Brdnik's Jason has a boyish quality that might lend credence to his callow, selfish behavior. His physical prowess is riveting whether moving with athletic command or simply standing in mythic postures. At one point Tadej thrillingly sweeps his joyous princess, danced by Iris Florentiny, onto his shoulder with breathtaking aplomb. Ms. Florentiny's physical loveliness makes Jason's desire for her understandable; she moves with melodic grace, unaware of her impending fate. Katherine Crockett as the Chorus gives an exalted performance, unfolding her glorious extension with thrilling inevitability. Together this quartet of super-human dancers made CAVE incredibly immediate.
Having observed Luca Veggetti's creative process in two visits to the studio, I was very much anticipating the experience of seeing the finished product: his new work, FROM THE GRAMMAR OF DREAMS, is gift both to the ear and the eye. Kaija Saariaho's score, settings of Sylvia Plath for two unaccompanied female voices, is intriguing in its own right; Luca's movement vocabulary carries his five dancers into Saariaho's sonic world creating an illusive realm where the expressive qualities of the dancers glow with the same textured radiance as the transfixing sounds of the meshed voices. In this ballet, the poetic mingling of music and movement keeps us spellbound. Five marvelous Graham women - Blakeley White-McGuire, Mariya Dashkina Maddux, PeiJu Chien-Pott, Xiaochuan Xie and Ying Xin - have embraced the dance-maker's vision with unfettered physicality and are repaid by the choreographer with individual moments in which to shine and ensemble passages where the gentle ties of sisterhood are evoked. Beverly Emmons' lighting, against the bare back wall of the stage, puts the final magic touch on this dreamlike work.
From the Graham Company's ongoing LAMENTATION VARIATIONS project, in which contemporary choreographers are called upon to create short works inspired by the iconic Graham solo LAMENTATION, we saw three works. In the first, created by choreographer Bulareyaung Pargalava and set to Mahler, Mariya Dashkina Maddux gave a performance of lustrous lyrical quality, joined by three strikingly attractive men: Lloyd Mayor, Maurizio Nardi and Ben Schultz. Yvonne Rainer's variation, something of a Graham spoof, was performed with wonderfully dead-pan insouciance by Katherine Crockett and Janet Eilber.
I've seen Doug Varone's LAMENTATION VARIATION at different stages of development, most recently at a private showing at the Graham space on Bethune Street. Today this male quartet, set to Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, made a profound impression. The men - Tadej Brdnik, Maurizio Nardi, Lloyd Knight and Abdiel Jacobsen - are first seen seated on a bench. In the course of the work, the bench becomes almost an active participant in the dance. Although the dancers spend much of the work seated or prone, the movement never stops...it is restless, haltingly expressive of the desire for tenderness or consolation, passionate under the pall of restraint. The score serves the choreographer's vision perfectly, and the Graham men are magnificent.
DIVERSION OF ANGELS must be Graham's most romantic work. She described it as a paean to "the love of life and the love of love". Norman Dello Joio's score suits Graham's message well and while the piece calls for ten dancers, there is an illusion of being a larger work thanks to the spaciousness of the movement and the various comings and goings of the performers. In this ballet, three women seem to portray different phases in the development of love; they might be three different women or one woman who expresses herself as her romantic life unfolds. A stately, sexy beauty clad in white, Natasha Diamond-Walker's dancing is fresh and vibrant, as intoxicating as a breath of Spring. Xiaochuan Xie's youthful glow gives her Woman in Yellow a sweet touch of vulnerability. Blakeley White-McGuire's restlessly impetuous dancing in red fills the stage with the wonderment of her personal beauty and unique intensity. As these three grand ladies sweep us through the glories of Graham's romantic visions, they are paired off with the handsome men: Abdiel Jacobsen, who is making a powerful mark in the Graham repertory, dances with Ms. Diamond-Walker, and Maurizio Nardi is a slender, elegant cavalier for Ms. White-McGuire. Lloyd Knight's incredible physique constantly draws the eye, and his splendid "catch" of Xiaochuan Xie as she came flying across the stage to him caused a murmur of delight to sweep thru the theater. When the three men are not partnering, they are joined by Ben Schultz to form a quartet of warriors of love, moving in gallant, flying combinations. Completing the stageful of marvelous visions is a quartet of nymphs: Mariya Daskina Maddux, PeiJu Chein-Pott, Iris Florentiny and Ying Xin. The cumulative effect of these entrancing dancers, both in their movement and in the expressive personal qualities, brought the afternoon to an exciting end.
Overcoming the disastrous effects of Storm Sandy on the Graham archive of sets, costumes and memories, Janet Eilber and her company and crew presented a memorable season which both honored the Graham legacy and continued to carry it forward. My thanks to Ms. Eilber, and to Denise Vale, Luca Veggetti, Miki Orihara and Lloyd Knight for always welcoming me at the Graham studios, to all the dancers for their generous spirits, and to the publicist Janet Stapleton for arranging things so nicely for me during the two-week season. And now, onward to the rites of Spring!