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Martha Graham Dance Company: Embattled Garden, Cave of the Heart, Appalachian Spring

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Martha Graham Dance Company
(Graham Company Website)

Embattled Garden
Cave of the Heart
Appalachian Spring

At the
Rose Theater
Frederick P. Rose Hall
Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center

Martha Graham:
Founder, Dancer, Choreographer

Artistic Director: Janet Eilber
Executive Director: LaRue Allen

Senior Artistic Associate: Denise Vale
Director, Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance:
Virginie Mécène
General Manager: Faye Rosenbaum
Marketing and Communications Assoc.: Saira McLaren
Press: Jonathan Marder + Company

Martha Graham Dance Company:
Tadej Brdnik, Katherine Crockett, Jennifer DePalo,
Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, Maurizio Nardi, Miki Orihara,
Blakely White-McGuire

Jacqueline Bulnes, Lloyd Knight,
Mariya Dashkina Maddux, Samuel Pott, Ben Schultz,

Jacquelyn Elder, Hanan Misko, George Smallwood,
Oliver Tobin, Andrea Murillo, Lauren Newman. Xiaochuan Xie
Iris Florentiny, PeiJu Chien-Pott

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 17, 2011

(See More Graham Company Reviews)

Martha Graham, Founder, Dancer, and Choreographer of the Martha Graham Dance Company, and I actually shared the same birthday. She was a pioneer and a pillar of strength and encapsulated basic human emotions, especially those of female characters from the frontier and from mythology, drawing inspiration from friends who painted, sculpted, and composed 20th Century music. In 1988, Time Magazine named Martha Graham the Dancer of the Century. During her 70 years as a choreographer, Ms. Graham created 181 ballets and a Modern Dance technique that has been compared to ballet, due to its complexity and depth.

Martha Graham considered herself, first and foremost, a Dancer. I remember seeing her onstage, in her later years. She danced at a point of maturity, when almost all dancers have retired. Ms. Graham never retired, and I recall her accepting bravura audience acclaim, onstage, in her expansive, golden, Asian styled, Halston gown. Her black hair was a severe as her dances. She continued to exude the same, studied presence and poise that have been recorded in photos and films of her earliest performances. Ms. Graham founded her dance company and school in 1926 in Carnegie Hall. In Ms. Graham’s own words, “In all of us who perform there is an awareness of the smile which is part of the equipment, or gift, of the acrobat. We have all walked the high wire of circumstance at times. We recognize the gravity pull of the earth as he does. The smile is there because he is practicing living at the instant of danger. He does not choose to fall.” (Company Notes)

Embattled Garden (1958): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Carlos Surinach, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Mariya Dashkina Maddux as Eve, Oliver Tobin as Adam, Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch as Lillith, Maurizio Nardi as The Stranger.

Another scorned woman, Lilith, Adam's first wife (Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch), is as serpentine as The Serpentine Stranger (Maurizio Nardi) in her loathing of Eve (Mariya Dashkina Maddux) and Adam (Oliver Tobin). Ms. Ellmore-Tallitsch lies in wait, as still waters run deep, and Ms. Maddux exudes the seductiveness of Eve. Isamu Noguchi's sets are designed with the sharpness and starkness requisite to the violently passionate motif. Mr. Nardi possesses in his seething psychological gaze and internalized muscularity the power of Adam, the biblical figure of mystical masculinity. At times Mr. Nardi reminds me of Christophe Jeannot, a former Graham dancer of the highest caliber.

Embattled Garden is an expressive piece about love, which "does not obey the rules of love, but yields to some more ancient rule of law". The brightly colored Noguchi set, against a black backdrop, provides the framework for the complicated relationships, between Adam and Eve, Lilith and the Stranger.
With muscular elongations and torso contractions, Oliver Tobin is a memorable Adam, to Ms. Maddux’ Eve, who, held by her thighs, stretches back, during a symbolic lift. Mr. Nardi, with his amazing agility and stage presence, was perfectly cast as the Stranger, and Ms. Ellmore-Tallitsch, as Lilith, is a focused dancer, growing into the role. The demonstration of anguish, inherent in most of Martha Graham's works, was on view, as characters wandered through mazes, as if lost in the forest of internal ambiguities and conflicting emotions.

Cave of the Heart (1946): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Samuel Barber, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting Design by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Miki Orihara as The Sorceress, Medea, Tadej Brdnik as Jason, Jacquelyn Elder as The Princess, Creon’s Daughter, and Katherine Crockett as The Chorus.

Tonight’s cast exceeded last night’s, with Miki Orihara cast as Medea, who literally eats her red entrails in a psychotic, crazed state of jealous revenge. Ms. Orihara, like the other members of this cast, is a crème de la crème Graham dancer, one who epitomizes the Graham technique and visceral angst. Jacquelyn Elder as The Princess exuded erotic seduction and raw female power. Tadej Brdnik as Jason was drawn to Ms. Elder with vulnerability and callous desire. Katherine Crockett was all knowing, magnetically poised, and filled with stage presence. It was at this very moment that I was so glad to be in tonight’s audience.

Appalachian Spring (“Ballet for Martha”, 1944): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Aaron Copland, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Blakely White-McGuire as The Bride, Tadej Brdnik as The Husbandman, Maurizio Nardi as The Revivalist, Katherine Crockett as The Pioneering Woman, and Jacqueline Bulnes, Mariya Dashkina Maddux, Lauren Newman, and Xiaochuan Xie as The Followers.

To cap off a great night of three renowned Graham works, her Appalachian Spring closed the evening. As it’s also called “Ballet for Martha”, it was a fitting end to my three-night Graham experience. The cast was superb, every dancer in perfected mood, motif, and mastery. In fact, this work has been seen often in recent seasons, so the cast has had an opportunity to become seasoned in the roles. But, yet, each performance has been fresh and rich. Blakely White-McGuire as The Bride has the strong demeanor of a Plains woman, while Tadej Brdnik, minutes from his role in the previous work, is stiff of spine and serious as The Husbandman. Katherine Crockett as The Pioneering Woman, is, as expected, stunning and mesmerizing, a forceful persona in the spare Noguchi set.

But it’s Maurizio Nardi as The Revivalist, who rivets the eye with nuance in each performance of this iconic character. When he hands his wide brown hat to The Followers, in ceremonial timing, he proceeds to create a searing study in religious fervor, a deeply emotional transformation. His entire body shivers and twitches like he’s exorcising a demon. The four Followers were lyrical in the folkloric dance, with lace and gingham costumes. Noguchi’s spare fence and prairie scene transports the viewer to another time in the American heartland. Kudos to the Graham Company, and kudos to Martha Graham.

Maurizo Nardi, Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch,
Oliver Tobin, Mariya Dashkina-Maddox
in Graham's "Embattled Garden"
Courtesy of Costas

Oliver Tobin and Carrie Ellmore -Tallitsch
in Graham's "Embattled Garden"
Courtesy of Costas

Katherine Crockett, Blakeley White-McGuire,
Benjamin Schultz, Xiaochuan Xie
in Graham's "Cave of the Heart"
Courtesy of Costas

Xiaochuan Xie, Benjamin Schultz
Katherine Crockett, Blakeley White-McGuire
in Graham's "Cave of the Heart"
Courtesy of Costas

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at