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Martha Graham Dance Company: Appalachian Spring, Axe, Night Journey, Echo

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Martha Graham Dance Company
(Graham Company Website)

90th Anniversary Season

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:
PeiJu Chien-Pott, Lloyd Knight, Ben Schultz
Blakeley White-McGuire, Abdiel Jacobsen, Ari Mayzick
Xin Ying, Charlotte Landreau, Lloyd Mayor, Lauren Newman
Anne O’Donnell, Lorenzo Pagano, Konstantina Xintara
Laurel Dalley Smith, Anne Souder, Leslie Andrea Williams
Guyonn Auriau

The Mannes Orchestra
Conductor David Hayes

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 15, 2016

(See More Graham Company Reviews and Interviews.)

90 Years in 90 Seconds (2016): A Film by Justin Scholar, Assisted by Oliver Tobin. On second viewing, I just love this historical Graham Company film, but it travels 90 years in 90 seconds, and I longed to press the pause button. I hope this will soon be available online.

Appalachian Spring (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 Charlotte Landreau as The Bride, Lloyd Mayor as The Husbandman, Ari Mayzick as The Preacher, Konstantina Xintara as The Pioneering Woman, and Laurel Dalley Smith, Lauren Newman, Anne O’Donnell, Anne Souder as The Followers.

As always, Graham’s Appalachian Spring, also called “Ballet for Martha”, was superb, with each lead in a perfected, early Americana motif. Tonight’s cast had so many new faces, that we’re all becoming quickly accustomed to. Charlotte Landreau, whom I had favorably reviewed with Graham 2, was The Bride, with exceptional demeanor and skill. She exuded the strength of a Plains woman. Ari Mayzick, new in the Company, was stiff of spine and serious as The Husbandman. Yet another new dancer, Konstantina Xintara, as The Pioneering Woman, was stunning and mesmerizing, a forceful persona in the spare Noguchi set. Filling the role of The Preacher, formerly called The Revivalist, was Lloyd Mayor, riveting the eye with magnetic persona. Mr. Mayor has strong shoes to fill, as former Graham dancer, Maurizio Nardi, was so exceptionally perfected in the character The four Followers were lyrical in the folkloric dance, with lace and gingham costumes. Noguchi’s spare fence and prairie scene transport the viewer to another time in the American heartland.

Axe (2015): Choreography by Mats Ek, Music by Tomaso Albioni, Set and Costumes by Katrin Brännström, Lighting by Jorgen Jansson, Sound by Tomas Bolin, Performed by PeiJu Chien-Pott and Ben Schultz. I think I said it all last night, in my review of this tortuous work. Endlessly watching and listening to Ben Schultz chop real logs with a real axe, while PeiJu Chien-Pott contorts her body spasmodically, when she can’t release her partner from the magnetized grip of this ritualistic task, is now thankfully over, hopefully not to return in repertory. This is no more a dance than is riding an escalator.

Night Journey (1947): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by William Schuman, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original lighting by Jean Rosenthal, adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by PeiJu Chien-Pott as Jocasta, Lloyd Knight as Oedipus, Ben Schultz as Tiresias, Xin Ying as Leader of the Chorus, and six women in the Company as Daughters of the Night.

Night Journey, on the other hand, which was also on last night’s program, with different cast leads, was, once again spellbinding in the moment. With angular lines and sweeping movements, stone sculpted sets, a ladder, tiny branches held by the Chorus, and figurative choreography, representational of ancient Greek drawings, the audience was prepared for the tale of Oedipus, Jocasta, Tiresias, the Leader of the Chorus, and Daughters of the Night. PeiJu Chien-Pott, charged and electric as Jocasta, who eventually kills herself, upon learning that her husband, Oedipus, is actually her son, absorbed and released pain and shock, moving like a wounded lioness.

Oedipus, Lloyd Knight, was muscular and intense, as he blinds himself, upon learning the truth of his marital union, before wandering the earth. But, before his exit, he ties Jocasta to a symbolic umbilical cord, he writhes in erotic desire and inner anguish, he walks on his heels, legs in military lifts, and he spins and sculpts his body, as if he is another Noguchi stage formation. Ben Schultz, fresh from his axe-wielding previous role, as the blind seer, Tiresias, created a tragic persona with a long, heavy stick, that kept propelling him forward across the stage, as the messenger of doom. The Chorus wears riveting headpieces and moves in unison with dark, driven choreography. Every head turn and contraction are in perfectly timed harmony. Tonight these Daughters of the Night pierced the audience with their gazes, as their arms vibrated with trepidation. This work is almost 70 years old, and its message and method are as clear as if it were new. Martha Graham was a genius.

Echo (2014): Choreography by Andonis Foniadakis, Music by Julien Tarride, Costumes by Anastasios Sofroniou, Scenic Design and Lighting by Clifton Taylor, Performed by Lloyd Mayor, Lorenzo Pagano, Xin Ying, and a Company ensemble of seven.

Still, among all the new works presented in recent Graham Seasons, my favorite remains Adonis Foniadakis’ Echo. This is a classy and thought-provoking work, one that grows on the viewer, with Lloyd Mayor as Narcissus, Lorenzo Pagano as his reflection, and Xin Ying as Echo, Narcissus’ unfulfilled lover. The ensemble is the multiple-voiced chorus of Echo, or so it seems. The stage is lit for a reflecting pool, and Mr. Mayor’s lead role is exemplary, with masterful poise and outstretched arms, as he gazes upon himself. He projects conflict, in duo dance with Ms. Ying, and in struggles and connectivity with Mr. Pagano. The ensemble becomes almost wild in the nighttime light. In the ensemble, Charlotte Landreau caught my eye, with her remarkable charisma.

Kudos to Martha Graham.

PeiJu Chien-Pott and Lloyd Knight
in Martha Graham's "Night Journey."
Courtesy of Brigid Pierce

Lloyd Mayor and Lorenzo Pagano
in Andonis Foniadakis' "Echo."
Courtesy of Brigid Pierce

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