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Martha Graham: Synthetic and Real
MARTHA GRAHAM -- Dancer Fang-Yi Sheu in "Cassandra." Photo by John Deane.
Martha Graham Dance Company
80th Anniversary Gala Evening
Skirball Center, New York University
Washington Square South
April 18, 2006
Reviewed by Jack Anderson April 19, 2006
On April 18, 1926 the Martha Graham Dance Company gave its first performance. On April 18, 2006, the company celebrated that event with a gala. In the 80 years since its debut, it has survived many crises including recent managerial and directorial ones. Yet it dances on, and so there was an appropriate air of festivity about this program of excerpts from Graham works, plus a few by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn with whom Graham danced before striking out on her own.
What made the gala unusual was the participation of Richard Move, a Graham impersonator. Such cross-dressing could easily have turned the entire proceedings into camp. Luckily, that did not happen. Instead, Move was superfluous.
During the second half of the program, Move kept stalking about in elegant gowns while breathily reciting oracular pronouncements. His tone was arch, and he made so many appearances that he soon became a nuisance. He also danced a duet from "Part Real – Part Dream" with another guest artist, Desmond Richardson, ordinarily a commanding stage presence. But Move is such a tall dancer that he occasionally seemed ready to overpower and devour Richardson. The pairing did nothing to make a convincing artistic case for this rarely performed duet.
Fortunately, the Graham company's snippets respected the choreography's seriousness, although the Denishawn pieces were unevenly performed. Blakeley White McGuire snapped saucily through Shawn's "Serenata Morisca" and Tadej Brdnik effectively contrasted the sharply-angled earthbound poses and the odd sudden hops in Shawn's "Gnossienne." But Heidi Stoeckley Nogoy looked too self-conscious in St. Denis's flowing "Incense."
There were several fine selections from the Graham repertory. For instance, the mass movements in "Heretic" and "Steps in the Street" retained their architectural grandeur and emotional force. Notable solo interpretations included the way Katherine Crockett made the expansions and contractions of her costume express waves of grief in "Lamentation" and Erica Dankmeyer's outbursts of giddiness in "Satyric Festival Song." Best of all was the Cassandra solo from "Clytemnestra," during which Fang-Yi Sheu appeared to confront invisible but terrifying forces on every side.
Such interpretations demonstrated that the Graham company does not need impersonators, male or female, who look or act like Graham, but artists whose dancing bodies persuasively incarnate all the tumultuous emotions in Graham's choreography. Why bother with synthetic Graham, when the real thing is more exciting?
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