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Martha Graham Dance Company: Myth and Transformation: Clytemnestra, Echo, Maple Leaf Rag

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Martha Graham Dance Company
(Graham Company Website)

Myth and Transformation
Maple Leaf Rag

New York City Center

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, PeiJu Chien-Pott,
Lloyd Knight, Mariya Dashkina Maddux, Ben Schultz,
Xiaochuan Xie, Natasha Diamond Walker, Abdiel Jacobsen,
Lloyd Mayor, Lauren Newman, Oliver Tobin, Ying Xin,
Lorenzo Pagano, Lucy Postell, Tamisha Guy,
Charlotte Landreau, Gildas Lemonnier

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 21, 2014

(See More Graham Company Reviews and Interviews)

Clytemnestra (1958): Choreography by Martha Graham, Arrangement by Janet Eilber and Linda Hodes, Music by Halim El-Dabh, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original costumes by Martha Graham and Helen McGehee, Costumes recreated by Karen Young and Anna Alisa Belous, Original lighting by Jean Rosenthal, adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Katherine Crockett as Clytemnestra, Ben Schultz as King Hades, Abdiel Jacobsen as Orestes, Natasha Diamond-Walker as Helen of Troy, Blakeley White-McGuire as Electra, Maurizio Nardi as Aegisthus, Mariya Dashkina Maddux as Iphigenia, Tadej Brdnik as Agamemnon, Peiju Chien-Pott as Cassandra.

Martha Graham loved to enact Greek tragedies for her mythical modern dances, and they are always gripping and theatrical. Her 1958 work, Clytemnestra, with Isamu Noguchi’s, Queen’s bedroom sets and a score by Halim El-Dabh, is particularly grueling in plot, but astounding as dance drama. Katherine Crockett, one of the finest modern dancers performing today, a striking figure always, was Queen Clytemnestra, who, in this ballet, is in the Underworld, explaining her tragedy to King Hades. In describing the Trojan War, she speaks about her husband, Agamemnon’s, sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia. Clytemnestra’s two living children, son Orestes and daughter Electra, are planning to murder their mother, to revenge the mother’s murder of the father, in itself revenge for Iphigenia’s death. Clytemnestra has a lover, Aegisthus, who urged her to act on impulse, and the past, marital murder is enacted now on stage. (Of course the audience should read the program notes prior to Martha Graham’s Greek oeuvres, in order to be clear of characters and plot). Agamemnon is led to walk on the Gods’ red cloth, and the children observe his cruel fate. Cassandra, a prophetess, is Agamemnon’s mistress, and so on. (With assistance of Graham Company Program Notes).

Ms. Crockett was stunning throughout, filled with angst, pulling her torso into her abdomen in Graham’s renowned contraction-releases. Ms. Crockett squeezed her internal muscles, as she bent into a human ball, dancing as if dead. The plot above surely thickened further, and the mood was dark. There was a sense of constant foreboding, yearning, revenge without reflection or redemption, complexity and charged charisma. Among the cast, Ben Schultz as King Hades was muscular, expansive, thundering in motion, and treacherous. Each member of the Company danced with defiant determination and dread. Abdiel Jacobsen and Blakely White-McGuire, as Orestes and Electra, hovered and clung at the edge of the action, but they, too, are in mesmerizing motion. Natasha Diamond Walker is Helen of Troy, instrumental to the back story, and Maurizio Nardi is Aegisthus, the manipulative lover. The ever magnetic, Tadej Brdnik is Agamemnon, and the prophetess, Peiju Chien-Pott, is his lover, Cassandra. The recorded score was eerie and propulsive. The Noguchi set was minimalist and intriguing. But, the kudos of the evening, a standing ovation, went to Ms. Crockett.

Echo (2014): Choreography by Andonis Foniadakis, Music by Julien Tarride, Costumes by Anastasios Sofroniou, Lighting by Clifton Taylor, Performed by the Company.

This new work, by Andonis Foniadakis, as a further celebration of Martha Graham’s connection with literary Greece, brings us Echo and Narcissus. Unitards and chiffon skirts are designed by Anastasios Sofroniou, and the choreography is wild and wanton, with leaping in circles, wild swirling, and dancers falling on one another (in an ensemble of ten). Peiju Chien-Pott was astounding, swinging her ponytail in crazed psychic implosion. The program tells us that Echo (Ms. Chien-Pott) and Narcissus (Lloyd Mayor, with Lorenzo Pagano as his reflection) are locked in the “impossibility of love and the vanity of beauty”. Narcissus loves himself, and Echo loves him, too. Cartwheels ensue. Julien Tarride composed the powerful score.

Maple Leaf Rag (1990): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Scott Joplin, Costumes by Calvin Klein, Lighting by David Finley, Performed by the Company. The Woman in White, Katherine Crockett, used her expansive, long dress in the circular and comical fashion, for which it was designed. After the searing drama of Clytemnestra, Maple Leaf Rag was a change of mood and motif. I remember the 1990 premiere of this work, followed by the proud Ms. Graham onstage in her golden Halston, as she glowed with pride. I love hearing her taped, earthy voice at the onset of this dance, asking Louis Horst, her friend and colleague, to play her “Maple Leaf Rag”. The Company was flawless and fanciful as they dashed and twirled and athletically utilized the joggling board, set center stage. This is a colorful and crisp piece, structured to Joplin's rags and bound to leave the audience relaxed and upbeat.

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

Martha Graham Dance Company
Blakeley White-McGuire, Abdiel Jacobsen
in "Clytemnestra"
Courtesy of Costas

Martha Graham Dance Company
Lorenzo Pagano, PeiJu Chien-Pott in
"Echo", choreography by Andonis Foniadakis
Courtesy of Costas

Martha Graham Dance Company
Lloyd Knight, Ying Xin
in "Maple Leaf Rag"
Courtesy of Costas

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