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Martha Graham Dance Company: Phaedra, The Show (Achilles Heels)

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Martha Graham Dance Company
(Graham Company Website)

Myth and Transformation
The Show (Achilles Heels)

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Martha Graham: Founder, Dancer, Choreographer
Artistic Director: Janet Eilber
Executive Director: LaRue Allen
Senior Artistic Associate: Denise Vale
Press: Janet Stapleton

Martha Graham Dance Company:
Tadej Brdnik, Katherine Crockett, Maurizio Nardi,
Miki Orihara, Blakely White-McGuire, Lloyd Knight,
Mariya Dashkina Maddux, Ben Schultz, Xiaochuan Xie,
PeiJu Chien-Pott, Natasha Diamond Walker, Iris Florentiny,
Abdiel Jacobsen, Oliver Tobin, Lloyd Mayor,
Lorenzo Pagano, Lucy Postell, Ying Xin

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 28, 2013

(See More Graham Company Reviews and Interviews)

Phaedra: Choreography and Costumes: Martha Graham, Music: Robert Starer, Set: Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting: Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Katherine Crockett as Phaedra, Lloyd Knight as Hippolytus, Ben Schultz as Theseus, Mariya Dashkina Maddux as Artemis, Xiaochuan Xie as Aphrodite, PeiJu Chien-Pott as Pasiphea, Tadej Brdnik, Lloyd Mayor, Maurizio Nardi, Oliver Tobin as Bull Dancers.

Janet Eilber, Artistic Director of the Graham Company, in her nightly live comments to the audience, related the outcries of Congress, in 1962, when this work premiered, denouncing it as scandalous and shameless. Torn between the force of two goddesses, Artemis, goddess of chastity, and Aphrodite, goddess of lust, Phaedra succumbs to Aphrodite, and in her obsession and eroticism, she beds her step-son, Hippolytus. In an amazing tour de force, Ben Schultz is the tortured husband, Theseus, and Katherine Crockett is Phaedra, who is not only unfaithful to him, but is involved with Lloyd Knight, who is Hippolytus, her step-son. Phaedra acted on a curse from the jealous Xiaochuan Xie, as Aphrodite, who wanted this step-son for herself. But, Hippolytus had eyes for the Goddess Artemis, Mariya Dashkina Maddux. To make matters worse, Phaedra's mother had been, herself, forced to conceive a Minotaur, from a union with a bull. In fact, the Chorus is composed of Bull Dancers, with horns.

This is a stark, dark, and dramatic work, one of Martha Graham's relatively late pieces, and watching this scenario unfold, with this vivid and vibrant Company, is a riveting and mesmerizing experience. Mr. Knight, Mr. Schultz, and Ms. Crockett, in muscular physique and peak energy, imbued with dramatic and dynamic tension, all make this work pierce the soul and sear the mind. There are moments when Phaedra passes a knife near her groin and when she searches for a long, thick rope. Isamu Noguchi’s sets, with cabinets for Hippolytus and Aphrodite to hide in, that reveal portions of their bodies, were gripping. When the bull dancers arrive, led by Tadej Brdnik, they recreate a past event. Phaedra’s mother, Pasiphea, PeiJu Chien-Pott, had been mounted by a bull, in a mesmerizing circle and tumble of horns and surrealism. Here, the power of myth and the transformation of this Company merged to realize the title of this Graham season, Myth and Transformation.

The Show (Achilles Heels): Choreography, Creation, Director: Richard Move, Original Score: Arto Lindsay, Songs by Deborah Harry and Blondie, Costumes: Pilar Limosner, Lighting: Lee Dickert, Properties: Gia Grosso, Set Design, Property Reconstruction and Supervision: SC Lucier, Scenic Art: Nicole Eisenman, Voice of Achilles: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Voice of Athena: Deborah Harry, Performed by Lloyd Mayor as Achilles, Abdiel Jacobsen as Patroclus, Tadej Brdnik, Abdiel Jacobsen, Ben Schultz as Men’s Trio, Tadej Brdnik as Narrator, Katherine Crockett as Helen of Troy, Blakeley White-McGuire as Athena, Mariya Dashkina Maddux, Natasha Diamond-Walker, Blakely White-McGuire as Women’s Trio, Natasha Diamond-Walker as Xanthus-Horse of Achilles.

As the last work for my Graham spring season, I arrived at this revival of Richard Move’s 2002 work with no expectations. The excerpt seen on a previous evening was hardly a clue. It must be noted that I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, a takeoff and camp comedic work on the tale of Achilles. Unlike the Graham works, the darkness is lightened with drag costuming, sunglasses, and a television game show. It’s a lengthy media-dance event, with eclectic music and recorded voices (Achilles’ voice is Mikhail Baryshnikov, who performed as Achilles in the White Oak Dance Project, at its premiere). The voice of Athena (Blakely White-McGuire), heard in the campy TV game show bit, is Deborah Harry. Arto Lindsay wrote the full, varied score.

Lloyd Mayor struts about in heeled boots, gold stilettos, red leather breast shields, sunglasses, and much more. He cavorts with his lover, Patroclus (Abdiel Jacobsen), who cuts a fine figure in their “pas de deux”. Tadej Brdnik narrates some of the action, doubling as a dancer in the Men’s Trio, with Mr. Jacobsen and Ben Schultz. The Women’s Trio, Mariya Dashkina Maddux, Ms. McGuire, and Natasha Diamond-Walker, wear headpieces and mimic the retro filmatic lyrics with tilts and twists of the head, in riotous effect. There’s a horse, Xanthus (Ms. Diamond-Walker), and Helen of Troy (Katherine Crockett), in outsized presence. Two props in invisible and actual forms are Achilles’ two mirrors, of which he makes much. The discovery of the evening was Lloyd Mayor, a captivating and charismatic persona, who will enhance the Company in seasons to come.

Kudos to the Graham Company, and kudos to Martha Graham.

Move's "The Show (Achilles Heels)"
Danced by Lloyd Mayor
Courtesy of Paula Court

Move's "The Show (Achilles Heels)"
Danced by Lloyd Mayor
Courtesy of Paula Court

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