My friend Dea and I went to see Martha Graham dance company last night. This was only my second time seeing them live and the first was many years ago and I now can remember nothing but the magnificent costumes. I want to do more research before I write my review. In general, I felt like the dancing was superb, the dancers were excellent actors as well as movers, and they gave everything they had. Miki Orihara (pictured above) in particular was stunning as the woman scorned, the Medea character, in the first of the three pieces I saw, “Cave of the Heart.”
It takes only one viewing to grasp how original Graham’s movement style is, along with the costumes and sets, and the overall themes and storylines of her dances. She was into dramatizing into dance Greek tragedies and Biblical stories. Lots of toga-style costumes; lots of Greek / ‘Egyptian’ movements: palms up, arms out to the sides, elbows bent; lots of flexed feet, large steps, lots of angularity. Her movement style was clearly that of the stories she was enacting through dance. My first impressions of her thematically are that she saw sex and sexual relationships as very destructive and often fatal.
Two of the pieces I saw — as with almost all dances in the company’s rep this season — were from the 40s and 50s; the third was from 1981. “Cave of the Heart” was a re-telling of the Greek tragedy, Medea, and “Embattled Garden” the story of Adam and Eve. Timeless stories for sure. My question is, is a certain movement style equally timeless? Are sets and costumes timeless? I felt like I was getting an important lesson in history, much the way I felt when I investigated that Merce Cunningham exhibit at the NY Public Library. I have a masters degree in History, was once on my way to becoming a professional historian, so obviously I care greatly about the subject. But I kind of think dance companies need to have an equal amount of the new with the old.
The third piece in last night’s program, “Acts of Light,” the one from 1981, was gloriously abstract, movement for movement’s sake, likely the least “Graham-ish” and my favorite, Dea’s least, go figure Some toga costumes on the first couple doing a duet, but in the end, the stage was ablaze with the ensemble dressed in very tight-fitting unitards that at first looked nude, but when the lights lit up I realized were radiant gold. So much more sensual than actual nudity.
Dea noticed we appeared to be the only two people under 40 in the audience, an increasingly disconcerting phenomenon at dance performances these days.
Anyway, sorry these thoughts are so disjointed. I want to read over the materials I was given and do a little more research on Graham before writing a longer review, and I’m busy at work today I promise to get my write-up posted this weekend though! In the meantime, here are Apollinaire’s blog thoughts (she went opening night and loved it), here’s her Newsday story, and here’s Sir Alastair’s upbeat take.
[One note regarding Apollinaire’s blog review: there are three pieces by contemporary choreographers that were shown on opening night but that aren’t part of the company’s repertory — one, by Larry Keigwin, seems to have been in tribute to 9/11 which was nice. Apollinaire asserts that one of these works each is to be performed each night during the season, which would have been nice, but last night none of those contemporary works were shown).
Martha Graham is showing in NYC from now through September 23rd; tix, which can be purchased here, are $44 for non Joyce members, except on Sunday nights when they’re only $25. It’s most definitely worth seeing whether you end up liking her very specific style or not, or think it’s dated or not. Graham is a seminal figure in dance in this country. So please go if you can (and let me know what you think)!