Performing Arts: Dance
February 13, 2015
The Martha Graham Dance Company's current 89th season is defined by its Shape&Design program, an homage to the pioneering American modernist's sculptural choreography. Delivered in three sub-programs over the course of the two-week season, each features Graham masterworks and the choreography of contemporary guest artists. This commitment to tradition while embracing the innovative has been spearheaded by Artistic Director Janet Eilber since 2005. Her approach is working; how rewarding it is to experience classics, appearing ever-relevant, alongside today's own creative genius - all as equal players.

Every evening opens with a visual treat by Peter Arnell. His silent film, or rather 2,000 photos montaged together, showcases the athleticism and architecture of Graham dancers' bodies, zooming and slowing down for each contraction, release. "Satyric Festival Song" is satiric indeed - a rarity among Graham's serious, drama-ridden tendencies. Soloist XiaoChuan Xie morphs between a stoic follower bounded to the flute's demands, to a self-aware individual acknowledging the audience and whipping her hair.

"Embattled Garden" throws us into Adam and Eve's Garden of Love, troubled by the presence of a stranger and Lilith - allegedly Adam's first wife. Isamu Noguchi's sets in all their abstract, colorful, part-nature/part-playground glory are an incredible asset to the work. The four become entangled in interactions, often two by two, driven by a universal themes of temptation, jealousy, and danger. Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch adds a particularly feisty touch in her performance as Lilith, the woman scorned.

"Lamentation Variations" follows, which has evolved into perhaps one of the most dynamic adventures conceived by the company in recent years. An event that began in 2007 as a 9/11 commemoration, it has since become a process where guest choreographers are invited reflect on a 1940s film of Graham performing her legendary, purple-cloaked solo, and create their own movement response. Larry Keigwin - an original "Variations" contributor - brings an ensemble to the stage in dark-hued evening wear, swaying to the romantic music. They touch their face and stare directly ahead as if before a mirror in a vulnerable state, soon overcome in syncopated jolts, collapsing limb-by-limb to the floor.

Kyle Abraham brings two male dancers - Lloyd Knight and Lloyd Mayor - in his stark version. The duo achieves a balance of tenderness and strength that becomes mesmerizing in its often slow-paced, nuanced structure. Sonya Tayeh's contribution begins with gasping, whispery chant as female dancers in bright purple cutout leotards enter the space. Joined by others and some male dancers, their movement is sensual, pulsating, and powerful. Here Tayeh draws on the company members' technique in different ways, showcasing a new breadth.

Nacho Duato's "Rust" opens the second act, celebrating its NY premiere. The male quintet has a way of lingering with you; it's aggressive and dramatic. Three push, fall, and manipulate each other's movement in a rapid unraveling, but then there are pauses where all to be heard is their unified breathing. A memorable image comes when all lift the front of their shirts over their head, faces covered and kneeling - a reference to torture and terrorism that remains today.

Closing with Graham's iconic "Chronicle," the nod to societal violence continues. In this triptych Blakeley White-McGuire shines as the leading soloist, especially in 'Spectre' as she tosses and collects her red lined black skirt. Soon the stage is filled with dancers crossing paths, their upper bodies in statuesque poses, and the all female finale builds the momentum and energy in whirling, relentless patterns of leaps and runs until all, together, succumb to stillness.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Jenny Thompson

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