Performing Arts: Dance
February 27, 2017
The Martha Graham Dance Company presented Sacred/ Profane at the Joyce In Februrary. Curated by Graham dancer and artistic director, Janet Eilber, this season comprised three distinctive programs integrating Graham’s repertoire and works by four renowned choreographers: Pontus Lidberg, Nacho Duato, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and Annie-B Parson.

Program “C” included the second act of Graham’s Clytemnestra, Maple Leaf Rag, her last complete work, and two world premières: I used to love you, choreographed by Annie-B Parson, and Mosaic by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Graham’s only full-evening work, Clytemnestra, displayed her aesthetic foundations in sculptural drama. Dating from 1958, costume designs by Graham and Helen McGehee remain astounding, in symbiosis with Isamu Noguchi’s iconic sets and Halim El-Dabh’s dissonant musical composition. Evoking the bi-dimensional world of L'après-midi d’un faune, the company revived the Greek tragedy of Agamemnon’s wife.

Promoting contextual programming, Eilber offered an upbeat introduction to the evening’s works with ample references to facilitate the audience’s appreciation of the historic innovations of the company’s founder. Likewise, Eilber explained the process of commissioning choreographer and director Annie-B Parson to take footage of Graham’s 1941 Punch and The Judy and “reimagine” the original comedy.

Dividing past and present, Parson reconstructed Graham’s choreographic work and filmed sections through the lens of contemporary parody. Three dancers dressed in bright colored pleated dresses intertwined movement on rolling chairs with text written by Will Eno, both integrated with microphones held by stands placed at the proscenium. The upstage area hosted a projector and screen showing Graham’s choreography footage, a rollaway bed, and dancers dressed in gray costumes representing the characters in the film. Although entertaining for some, the blunt contrast came across as irreverent to seasoned patrons.

In a swirl of earthy-toned silhouettes against backlight, nine dancers embodied Mosaic. Making a statement of unity within diversity, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s choreography amalgamated Middle-Eastern melodies by Felix Buxton with body paint designs, reaffirming the concept of bonding with straps wrapped around the dancer’s arms.

The dancers gave life to a malleable tree of lacing gestures repeatedly dispersing and returning to a vibrant collective cluster. Absorbing the dim space through boundless flow of contemporary movement, Cherkaoui’s discourse evidenced the connecting thread of Martha Graham’s technique through the evolution of modern dance.

Celebrating the light-hearted side of the American dance pioneer, Maple Leaf Rag, premiered in 1990, featured the full company showcasing Graham’s technique, vocabulary, and aesthetic in a minimalistic and witty wink to her memory. From the point of departure of a female dancer sitting on a pliable long barre placed at the center of the naked stage, the work proceeded in crescendo with dancers gathering to dance on and around the barre, briefly interrupted by a single dancer drawing a twirling line across the stage through a series of tilted turns, or the whole company passing by in prancing cavalcades.

The evening closed evoking Martha Graham’s immortal signature image represented in a dark vacuum. A single spotlight delicately showered lead dancer PeiJu Chien-Pott dressed in a long, plain, white dress, drifting through time in reserved plasticity.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY 00 Gabriela Estrada

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