Sunday, July 28, 2013

Martha Graham Dance Comes Alive at Summerstage.

By Tami Shaloum

Blakeley White-McGuire solemnly spins her skirt in war-themed dance series, Chronicle
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner**
There is no shortage of great dance companies in New York City, but when one gets a chance to see a world-renowned company such as Martha Graham Contemporary Dance, there is no passing it up. Although Ms. Graham has been deceased for over two decades, she was recently brought to life in an exuberant presentation of both classic pieces and a loving tribute at Central Park’s SummerStage on July 23rd and 24th. Her dances feel as fresh and original as ever under the direction of Artistic Director Janet Eilber and the whole company of remarkable dancers.

Walker's Dance & Gymnastics
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner
Opening the evening’s program was Walker’s Dance & Gymnastics, the Dancin’ Downtown at The Joyce contest winner, performing “Trajectory,” choreographed by KEIGWIN + COMPANY’s Jaclyn Walsh. This piece was characterized by quick, abrupt movements, and had an athletic aesthetic, enhanced by costumes that would not be out of place on a running track. The frenzied, staccato rhythm of the dance made for an exhilarating performance, although I wish the costumes had been a little more exciting.

"Lovers" Xie and Nardi
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner 
Beginning the Martha Graham portion of the evening was the breathtaking entrance of Xiaochuan Xie, half draped in a flowing, bright red costume, performing “Conversation of Lovers,” the first part of Graham’s three-part Acts of Light. This romantically dramatic piece featured a stunning pas de deux between Ms. Xie and Maurizio Nardi. It was hard to take my eyes off this gorgeous couple as they relevéed, arabesqued and entwined. “Lament” featured flame-haired Blakeley White-McGuire wearing a white skin-like fabric that encased everything but her feet and provided no discernible body shape. This gave the impression of a butterfly about to burst through its cocoon. “Ritual to the Sun” began with the company entering in yellow full-body leotards and dancing in a circle, a human representation of the sun. This piece was light, airy and playful compared to the relative heaviness of the previous dances. The dancers made movements that were much like sun salutations and quick spurts of movement, as though the sun were bursting though clouds.

The second piece, Lamentation Variations, commemorates the anniversary of 9/11 and is based on Graham’s iconic 1930s solo film, Lamentation. The first part of this three-part variation had a sad, grieving quality to it, set to operatic music, and ended with the chilling image of the three male dancers walking backwards while carrying the female dancer upside down, body rigid and stick straight, as the stage darkens. This was followed by a solo piece with long, sustained poses and slow, deliberate moves, punctuated by an abrupt movement from time to time. Next, the full company appeared in cocktail party attire and performed one of the more cinematic pieces. As they moved to a slow piano, a silvery light captured a couple dancing.

"Ritual to the Sun"
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner
Another classic Graham dance, Chronicle, closed the program. A war-themed series, Chronicle began with “Spectre-1914,” another dramatic piece that features music that could have been out of a film score, or a military march. A snare drum brought soloist White-McGuire on stage in a black mourning dress (could she have been a war widow?) with red skirting underneath. As she danced, she kept catching her skirt in her arms and throwing it every which way, almost as though she were dancing with her dress. “Steps in the Street” was just that, mostly stepping abruptly, both backwards and forwards, while “Prelude to Action” was set to more military-like percussion with the dancers in constant motion, seemingly plotting and organizing to mobilize.

With grace, beauty and great skill, the company proved their ability to reinvent decades-old material, therefore ensuring that Martha Graham’s legacy is far from forgotten.

**See Heather-Ann Schaeffner's full photo reel from the show here

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