About the show
The Martha Graham Dance Company performs:
- “Appalachian Spring Suite”
- “Lamentation Variations”
- “Errand into the Maze”
Acclaimed musical composition, meshed with the integrity of established choreographers, including Graham herself, gives these pieces evocative and haunting undertones that are mesmerizing, as well as timeless.
Throughout her career, Graham passionately choreographed many well-known modern dance pieces. She believed the body was a miracle and a mystery, not to be taken lightly, and not to be forgotten. She spent her entire life paying tribute to this idea. Her bold use of socially infused subjects and emotionally charged performances single-handedly defined contemporary dance as a uniquely American art form.
Considered the mother of modern dance, Graham achieved critical acclaim as both dancer and choreographer in her lifetime. She first studied dance in 1916 at Denishawn in Los Angeles, and in 1926 she debuted her own dance company in New York City.
Graham began a fundamental shift in the way choreographers approached the architecture of dance. She identified a new system of movement and new principles of choreography based on her own interpretation of the Delsartean principle of tension and relaxation. This method of muscle control gave Graham’s dances and dancers a hard, angular look, unfamiliar to audiences. Also unfamiliar to dance audiences was her narrative of dance. Not presented in a literal way, Graham’s narrative uses only pure, abstract movement-vocabulary to bring its story to life. She combined this with choreographic focus on the corps of dancers rather than on the solo figure.
Critics and audiences soon became accustomed to Graham’s innovative style of movement and she developed a following among serious dance patrons, scholars, and critics.
She danced into her sixties and choreographed until the day she died in 1991 in New York City at the age of 96.
Graham brought a distinctly American sensibility to every theme she explored and is considered an historical icon of American art and culture. The impact of her revolutionary vision and artistic mastery remains visible worldwide.
Originally choreographed by Graham in 1930, “Lamentation” expresses tremendous grief. The Martha Graham Dance Company commissioned Aszure Barton, Richard Move, and Larry Keigwin to create a dance honoring Graham’s original “Lamentation.” What resulted was a haunting, captivating set of dances that debuted on September 11, 2007 in commemoration of the terrorist attacks in New York City.
“Lamentation Variations,” permits us to see ourselves in the bodies on stage. The intention is to show the audience the beauty of our familiar routines and emotions. The dances remind us of the majesty of a simple walk forward, or a hand reaching toward us, and how such gestures often expose deep feelings within us. “Lamentation Variations” stirs the varied expressions of grief Graham illuminated in “Lamentation” by reaching, stretching, and contorting in constricting fabric.
Appalachian Spring Suite
The “Appalachian Spring” project began in 1942 when Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge commissioned Graham to choreograph a dance, and Aaron Copland to compose the score. The work debuted October 30, 1944, with Graham dancing the lead on a set designed by Isamu Noguchi. The dance tells the story of American pioneers of the 19th century and includes a bride, a groom, a pioneer woman, a preacher and his congregation. These characters act like exhibits in a museum, with one group dancing exuberantly on stage whilst the other remains still. Graham told Copland that she wanted the dance to be “a legend of American living, like a bone structure, the inner frame that holds together a people.”
A compilation from the original work, “Appalachian Spring Suite” illuminates the rhythm of early American life and the struggles of the individual.
Errand into the Maze
Based loosely on the Greek myth of Theseus and choreographed by Graham in 1947, “Errand into the Maze” presents a striking duet between the lead female dancer and the Minotaur.
In the myth, King Minos defeats the Athenians in war and demands they send him seven girls and seven boys every seven years, and the youths never return. Eventually, Theseus travels to Minoa to confront King Minos. He learns that a ferocious Minotaur lies at the center of a great labyrinth into which the children are thrown. King Minos’ daughter Ariadne, who has fallen in love with Theseus, advises him to take a ball of string into the maze. He enters the maze, trailing the string behind him, and races to the center of the maze where he awakens the sleeping Minotaur. A great fight ensues, and Theseus slays the Minotaur. Victorious, Theseus leaves Minoa with Ariadne.
Graham’s “Errand into the Maze” twists the tale, and a woman embarks on the journey through the maze. She ventures into the maze, only to erupt into a wild dance with the ferocious Minotaur. The two play out the tale with great physicality as they violently push and pull on each other with enormous strength. As the Minotaur is de-horned, he writhes on the ground in agony, and the woman rushes to pull herself out of the labyrinth.
“Echo,” the newly created masterpiece of force and brilliance choreographed by Andonis Foniadakis, debuted March 2014 at the New York City Center. It brings to life the Greek legend Echo and Narcissus. This loose limbed, high velocity ballet takes the love story of Echo and Narcissus and shatters it in brilliant choreographic abstraction. Audiences may recognize Echo, the wood nymph doomed to repeat only the last words of anything she hears, or Narcissus, the young man who falls in love with his own reflection. As the dance continues, audiences may recognize many Echoes and Narcissuses, or none. Foniadakis believes, in this case, that characterizations are not important. Though abstract, the driving elastic motion of the dancers is the intriguing focal point of this piece.
About the Martha Graham Dance Company
Founded in 1926, the Martha Graham Dance Company has nurtured many of the best choreographers of the 20th and 21st centuries, including:
- Merce Cunningham
- Erick Hawkin
- Pearl Lang
- Pascal Rioult
- Paul Taylor
Currently, the company is in the hands of Artistic Director Janet Eilber and Senior Artistic Director Denise Vale. Eilber, artistic director since 2005, began dancing with the company in the 70s. Vale, principal dancer with the company from 1985 to 1995, is one of the last modern dancers who worked directly with Graham herself. The company performs Graham’s repertoire of 181 works, as well as the works of modern choreographers, and has gained acclaim from audiences in over 50 countries.