MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE COMPANY/EKSTASIS-PANORAMA-HISTOIRE
April 17, 2018
We typically revere the modern dance greats of the early and mid twentieth century for each iconoclast’s macro level revamps of what dance could look like. While the Judson Church choreographers of the 60’s did the same as a whole, each had a relatively micro approach to their groundbreaking contributions, such that each is associated with a certain to a handful of aspects of dance. The beauty of good programming is the power a selection of work has to contextualize each other. As such, Martha Graham Dance Company’s 2018 season, while entitled “Sacred/Profane,” truly concerns space, featuring Lucinda Childs on a program consisting of (in Graham terms) less narrative work.
Opening with Virginie Mécène’s 2017 reimagining of Graham’s Ekstasis (1933), we begin with the notion of space within the body itself. Graham herself notes, “The body is a sacred garment.” Anne Souder duly wears herself, stretching the limits of her flesh to accommodate her bones. In twisted backward arches, her belly still manages to contract sharply against her spine’s opposing curvature, all the while clad in a skintight dress. Its constriction guides the dancer wearing it to redirect their joints to send movement to unexpected bodily regions. Outside, Souder makes a simple journey, from a center spotlight from which she spills out, to not even tracing the stage’s full perimeter before returning for a final scan of her elastic, reconsidered form.
It is in its spatial concerns that 1935’s Panorama communicates its activist intention, beyond casting a large group of locally sourced teenaged dancers. We never get a definitive sense of just how many there are as Graham’s structure continuously weaves thirty-three dancers, all wearing the same flowing red garment, through kaleidoscopic traffic patterns and dissolvable groupings. Its politics is Graham’s play with perspective and compositional balance to achieve an illusion of hierarchy that is consistently dismantled – entities are placed in a way that one may seem more or less important, until the spatial puzzle invariably progresses to maintain an even playing field.
Panorama is so uncharacteristically abstract for Graham that we barely notice Lucinda Childs’ choreographic voice in Histoire, newly expanded from its original duet made for the company in 1999. In making work directly on Graham dancers, there is a disappointing sense of Childs watering down the mathematical spatial rigor she has championed for a generic style that muddies her stripped down balletic vocabulary with softer limbs and an attempt at seductiveness that cannot break through the vestiges of her unmannered aesthetic struggling to remain present.
Graham’s Rite of Spring is incredibly organized. In this simple but horrific story, the ultimate discomfort is to witness just how immediately the Chosen One (PeiJu Chien-Pott) is dehumanized by her community. Enhancing this is a stoicness to Graham’s ensemble. Whereas other choreographers might run with Stravinsky to craft proportional chaos, Graham’s chorus is kept very symmetrical with calm countenances, perhaps not so accidentally connoting Greek vases that so serenely depict violence. It fully registers as soon as we note how the robed Shaman (Ben Shultz) spends most of the work with his back to the action, unassumingly and then chillingly illustrating a supposed leader knowingly allowing his community to destroy itself from within.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews