“Errand Into The Maze”, “Dark Meadow (Suite)”,
“Woodland”, “Lamentation” & 3 Variations,
“Diversion of Angels”
Martha Graham Dance Company
September 24, 2016
by George Jackson
© 2016 by George Jackson
It was a balanced bill but inevitably a woman’s world that the Graham’s artistic director, Janet Eilber, presented. Four dances were by Martha Graham and one each by Pontus Lidberg, Azsure Barton, Richard Move and Sonya Tayeh. Graham’s group works were made in the mid-1940s when she had entered her 50s. Sexuality is at their core, although differently slanted. In “Maze” (1947), it is a fearsome thing to be conquered. In “Meadow” (1946), sex gives some satisfaction and holds promise despite dark doubts. In “Diversion” (1948), sex is transformed into love and Graham choreographed a paean to it. A compositional device she used in the first two – the alternation of staccato motion and flow – doesn’t appear in “Diversion”. Instead, differences among the diverse aspects of love are shown by distinct pacing, phrasing, costuming. There is the statuesque, often almost still, white-clad figure of pristine love. Tension and intense release are attributes of the sensualist, whose attire is a burning red. Impetuous, immature love flits about, launches and lands lightly, and sports a canary’s colors. All, of course, are female figures. What about Graham’s men?
Martha Graham Dance Company in Graham’s “Diversion of Angels”. Photo by Costas.
Men were meat for Martha Graham. She switched the mid-20th Century pinup to the male image. Even in the “Maze” monster’s mix of attractive and repellant traits - muscular legs, mobile torso, crucified arms - it is allure that dominates. The fifteen members of the current Graham company, split about equally between female and male, are technically strong and polished. They have the firm placement and fulsome, sculpted movement that is a requisite for performing Graham choreography. Xin Ying ’s rock solid balances and crescendos of agitated propulsion as the red figure in “Diversion” raise that competence to a bravura caliber. Yet, not every one in a leading role seemed larger than life, and projected from within the body and through it to the outside – something essential for, especially, the women. Anne Souder had those riches in “Meadow”, and Konstantina Xintara was on the verge for Move’s “Lamentation Variation”.
The program’s “Lamentation” section started with a film showing Graham herself in her solo. It was color footage but silent, although danced originally in 1930 to a Kodaly piano piece. At various moments the camera focused on the lamenting woman’s often semi-seated stance, the stretch of her body with its knit cloth wrapping, the action of her hands and the expressions of her face. Because the choreography is almost stepless, its sculptural aspect becomes very apparent. The dance is about four minutes in duration. Barton’s variation on it is for a pair of women whose moves to George Crumb music are sometimes alike and sometimes not. In the final moments, one figure (Souder) disappears into darkness and the other (Ying) sits on the ground tapping her fingers on the floor. Move’s variation has Xintara progressing from left to right across the stage into a bright light. Her advance is slow and ceremonial. She started very pulled up in the spine, stepping on high demipointe, and concluded by turning around to face in the direction from which she had come and doing a back bend to the right into the light source. Was the music credit – Beethoven’s “5th” – correct for this solo? As the final variation on “Lamentation” at this performance there was a group piece by Detroit choreographer Tayeh to music by Meredith Monk. To me it seemed rather a take on “The Rite of Spring”. I wish that Eilber would acquire Rosalia Chladek’s 1936 “Totengeleite” as a further variation. Not only is it a powerful expression of grief but it would add a rare example of old Central European modernism to the American dance scene. Both the Graham company and Paul Taylor’s seem to be excluding that tradition from their collections. Actually, Graham's “Lamentation” is indebted to that very influence. Graham made the work after her mentor Louis Horst’s visit to Vienna and his tales about what was happening in the dance scene there, and also after her classes from the European trained Michio Ito.
A current European, Sweden’s Pontus Lidberg, made “Woodland”, to music by American composer Irving Fine (1914 – 1962). Its main concern isn’t gender relations but the individual (Ying) versus groups, big and small. Lidberg tries to use the firm, fulsome, modeled aspects of Graham movement but can’t quite hide a predisposition for busy, crowded contemporary choreography. The result is affably awkward, and not really an updating of the Graham approach.
At the post performance discussion among members of the Graham company and between them and the public, Lloyd Mayor, the British male soloist who had been Souder’s principal partner in “Meadow” and had caught the eye in smaller roles, spoke passionately about making the emotions of Graham’s characters real for himself. It must be that the performer in mounting that effort, in experiencing that process, grows as a personality and gives the audience a figure larger than life yet true.