at the Joyce Theater in New York City Myth and Transformation Presented February 20th- March 3rd, 2013
Christine Jowers for The Dance Enthusiast
A breathless fan waiting in the Joyce Theater’s reception area after the March 2nd matinee gushed to dancer, Lloyd Mayor, “You make me want to dance Graham!”
Mayor, one of the newer gods in the Martha Graham Dance Company, still sparkling with sweat and chunks of disco glitter from dancing the lead role,”Achilles”, in Richard Moves’ The Show (Achilles Heels), replied modestly, with his charming English accent, “Yes, it is so difficult, but it gives you so much back.” (I am sure everyone with in earshot called for the class schedule immediately. I certainly took a peek on the website.)
If anything was difficult for New York City audiences this Graham season it would have been choosing which night to go to a show. There were so many options. Which program? Which cast? Matinee or evening? Opening night? Closing night? The special Fall and Recovery Show that was chock- a- block with the superstars of dance? Classics? New works? One or all-of-the-above? It was an extraordinary season, luxurious in length ( two weeks) and splendid in riches. Each visit to the theater to gave so much back.
The classic dances gleamed. Never was there an edge where the movement whispered, “This is an antique.” Drama was vividly felt, not forced, allowing us to become caught up in the stories and people who were telling them. Even in Diversion of Angles where there is no narrative per se, each dancer embodied a shade of love so well that, well, love was, all we could think about.
|Blakeley White McGuire in Martha Graham’s Cave of the Heart ; Photo © COSTAS
The choreography and technique shone because we didn’t notice the choreography and technique. What we did notice were the dancers, and it was pleasure to watch the company’s experienced principals, soloists and new members eat up the space with their abundant facility. Of the newer talent, Mayor and Abdiel Jacobsen flashed bright, and PieJu Chien-Pott, Mariya Dashkina Maddux and Natasha Diamond-Walker emerged as artists of sophistication and presence.
I could almost hear the internal dialogue of the betrayed “Medea” in the Cave of the Heart. Blakeley White-McGuire’s “Medea” was a fiery, vengeful, deposed sorceress. Miki Orihara, began her journey with a softer, more plaintive touch. You feel for her; in fact, you might like to go up on stage and help her out. Orihara’s “Medea” shifts to madness so subtly that by the time you notice she’s lost to a murderous state, you are (figuratively – thank goodness) entangled with her in that spidery Noguchi contraption she puts herself into.
|Katherine Crockett as The Chorus; Blakeley White-McGuire as Medea in Graham’s Cave of the Heart; Photo © COSTAS
While Phaedra, Graham’s 1962 erotic ballet, scandalized a couple of congressmen enough to incite them to try and ban the company from a State Department tour, today it shows up not as indecent, but rather as a highly adorned, spicy, sometimes funky hallucination.
|Xiochuan Xie as Venus and Blakeley White-McGuire as Phaedra in Martha Graham’s Phaedra ; Photo © COSTAS
A wanton, high-kicking cougar, “Phaedra” (Katherine Crockett), falls in lust with her gorgeous, young buck of a stepson,“Hyppolytus”, (Lloyd Knight) because “Aphrodite” (Xiochuan Xie), played as a deliciously wicked vixen goddess, is toying with her. Knight, all screaming muscles in his flashy bikini, is completely disinterested in Crockett, and would rather just hunt, prance and revel in the cool lines of (Dashkina Maddux’s) virginal “Artemis”. All hell breaks loose after Phaedra’s husband, “Theseus” (Ben Schultz) – if Charlton Heston in his movie idol years were a dancer he might have been Schultz – is told ( through movement) the complete falsehood that Phaedra has been seduced and raped by his son. At the end of the ballet, another crazed woman “Pasiphea” (Chien-Pott) is introduced along with a chorus of handsome male bulls! Oh, by the way, Pasiphea slept with a bull and gave birth to the minotaur who is an important figure in Graham’s Errand Into the Maze, and she just happens to be Phaedra’s mother. What a family!
It’s a fun, wild ride, straight out of The Desperate Housewives of Greek Mythology. I don’t know if everybody gets that the tower to the left and the pink shell to the right represent a penis and vagina (I certainly didn’t until later when I asked.) I suspect that the kids that came to the same matinee I attended had no idea either and were simply lost in the works’ brightness and dynamic motion.
|Tadej Brdnik as Theseus and Blakeley White McGuire as Phaedra in Phaedra; Photo © COSTAS
If any of the Greek works could scandalize us today, I would choose the tragedy of Jocasta and Oedipus in Night Journey. Katherine Crockett is “Queen Jocasta”, who doesn’t realize her new husband, Oedipus, is really her son. Ben Schulz is “Oedipus”, who is just as ignorant of his roots as his queen. Both artists twist and surge with such carnal tension, that those of us, who know the real story, are tied into conflicted knots until the bitter-end. The steady pounding of Tiresias’ (Jacobsen as the blind seer) staff, as he hops across the stage to end this tale of woe, offers a much needed calm after the gut wrenching tragedy.
When the Graham dancers visit other choreographers territories, their sense of theater and intense physicality travel very well. It’s deeply satisfying to see these performers test their artistic chops in contemporary pieces. Two transformative standouts this season were Richard Moves’ The Show (Achilles Heels) 2002 and Lucca Veggetti’s From the Grammar of Dreams 2013 (a world premiere.)
|Lloyd Mayor as Achilles in Richard Move’s The Show ( Achilles Heels) Photo © Hibbard Nash Photography
Move’s The Show… originally choreographed in 2002 for Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Project, opens in heaven. Richly painted panels by Nicole Eisenman fill the back wall, brimming with (what look to be) fighting angels in white. The “show” apparently has already been played out, and the first dancers on stage – Jacobsen, who later will be introduced as Achilles’ beloved comrade and brother (lover?), “Patroclus”, and Tadej Brdnik, who later will play the “Narrator” of the tale, among other roles – are preparing themselves to begin again. “This is what must be done with a hero’s story,” they seem to say as their bodies create long lines in the relative darkness. “We must retell it.”
|A Chorus: Mariya Dashkina Maddux ,Natasha Diamond Walker and Blakeley White McGuire in Richard Moves’ The Show (Achilles Heels); Photo © COSTAS
Move’s retelling of Achilles’ story, occurs in a high fashion, lip-synching, reality game show setting – a world doused with elements of pop, club and gay culture that pulsates to music performed by Blondie. In this highly stylized beautiful place, painted screens ( again by Eisenman) are populated by parts of figures you might find in works by Francis Bacon, or Hieronymus Bosch or crazily enough in the poster for the Broadway musical Cats. The art stares out at you. Glamorous Helen of Troy (Crockett) sweeps the stage in a gown of black leather and diamonds; Athena (White-McGuire) charges the stage as a bare-breasted warrior TV host who loves to taunt her only contestant (Achilles) as much as she loves our applause, and Mayor’s androgynous and conceited Achilles runs and dances in heels as well as he can fight. While The Show… pops with stylishness, that’s not all there is. There lives an underlying sadness in this work that no amount of sound or color can hide. It is inevitable, we all ( both the cast and audience) realize, the only resolution ever possible to this show is for the hero to die and the beauty to fade. Patroclus, a true friend, is killed; Achilles’ marvelous horse (Diamond-Walker) falls, as does Helen. Finally, Mayor strides through the screens for one last resurrecting runway moment. Bathed in light, with floods of glitter descending upon him, we are reminded, with the help of Blondie, to celebrate his story. Unlike the Graham tragedies, there is hope in Moves’ myth making. If we can just keep the the memory of the beat alive, all will not be lost.
|Katherine Crockett as Helen of Troy in Moves’ The Show (Achilles Heels); Photo © COSTAS
While much of the 2013 season burst with color, fantasy, and ornament, Luca Veggetti’s minimalist vision offered a sublime contrast. By opening up the canvas of the stage so we can see the brick walls and pipes at the back of the theater, the choreographer carried us into a utilitarian world. Then, he swiftly and skillfully removed us from anything practical by deciding to fill the air with the surreal voice of Kaija Saariaho and play in the shadows.
From the Grammar of Dreams, is choreographed for five women ( Chein-Pott, Dashkina Maddux, White-McGuire, Xie, and Ying Xin) and the light. In this expansive cool atmosphere, where moments of brightness are shaded by grays and blacks, what we imagine in the dark is just as important as what we see when the stage is illuminated.
|PieJu Chien-Pott in the foreground, Ying Xin in the background in Luca Veggetti’s From the Grammar of Dreams; Photo © COSTAS
Figures in grey tops and black bottoms slide in and out of sight. There are moments when they operate alone, shifting from a stasis to frenzy, becoming trapped in unnatural, captivating angles. Other situations find them forming armies and assemblies, gathering for a meeting or marching as a unit across the stage. No faces, no very personal expressions. We seem to be witnessing figments of imagination, the stuff of dreams, reaching out, disappearing and transforming in exquisite and eloquent mystery.