The Lincoln Center hosted the Martha Graham Dance Company on Tuesday evening. The audience met performers with thoughtful inquiry and discussion.
The Martha Graham Dance Company was established in 1926. Graham was known as a key leader in the development of modern dance. She was so influential that many dancers and patrons categorize her dance style as a genre on its own. Her leadership defined contemporary dance as uniquely American.
“Graham is Graham,” said Sparrow Evans, a community member in Fort Collins and former dancer. “It is not just modern; it is Graham. It is neat to see the pioneering moments.”
Those pioneering moments of Graham’s original choreography were at one point provocative and controversial. Her use of the body and its movements contradict social norms of the 1940s from which the evenings pieces hailed. Two pieces fell into this category of original works and exemplified mid-20th century modernism.
Tuesday’s performance showcased a span of classic Graham choreography, re-imagined Graham choreography and contemporary pieces. Directors selected newly choreographed dances, which aligned with the themes of Graham’s choreography.
“I’m just excited to see a different style,” said Paloma McCurnin, a 10-year-old student of Contemporary Dance Academy. McCurnin currently studies ballet, contemporary, modern and hip-hop. She has been dancing for seven years.
The new choreography stood out and uniquely captured the evolution of Graham’s style. Pontus Lidberg choreographed “Woodland” in 2016, and it premiered in Washington D.C. Lideberg said it’s important to interact with the music. The performance reflected that relationship as well as the relationship between dancers and space on the stage.
The movements transitioned between rigid and fluid while the principle dancer, Xin Ying, portrayed a sense of imagination through her stage presence. Repetition of the opening phrase with only slight variation demonstrated the cyclical nature of this piece.
The cyclical theme stood out in other dances as well. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui choreographed “Mosaic” around the mystery of the Middle East. Dancers demonstrated several cycles of creating a formation, building tension and breaking that formation. It felt like a controlled and structured chaos. The music, lights and energy made the audience feel transported to another land. This piece focused on how individuals make up a larger product or system, like a mosaic.
Beyond the choreography and meaning behind each dance, the performers were all highly-skilled athletes. Their presence and passion reflected the meaning behind their art and their extensive technique, training and creativity.
After the show, three performers and Artistic Director of the company, Janet Eilber, spoke with the audience about how preservation of Graham’s choreography and dance style remains a focus of the company.
“Dance is an oral tradition,” Eilber said. “Documenting dance on film has become less and less expensive.”
Still, because of the ephemeral nature of choreography, the company keeps any photos, costumes, fabric swatches, written music, stage maps, reviews and communications relating to Graham’s work in an effort to reimagine and recreate original pieces.
Eilber worked closely with Graham as a principle dancer for the company early in her career. Throughout her time as a performer, she has performed at the White House, taken direction from Agnes deMille and Bob Fosse and partnered with Rudolf Nureyev, which for a dancer is akin to sharing a rock and roll stage with Elvis Presley.
The company has toured over 50 countries. Dancers are promised a minimum of 30 days of work per year but average closer to 32 to 34. Their next stops include Boulder and Denver.
- Boulder, Colorado. Oct. 5
- Denver, Colorado. Oct. 7
Collegian reporter Emma Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EmmaTurner1228.