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Martha Graham Dance Company: Primitive Mysteries, Rust, Mosaic, Diversion of Angels

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Martha Graham Dance Company
(Graham Company Website)

Video by Peter Sparling
Primitive Mysteries
Diversion of Angels

The Joyce Theater

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

Martha Graham Dance Company:
PeiJu Chien-Pott, Abdiel Jacobsen, Lloyd Knight,
Ben Schultz, Xin Ying, Charlotte Landreau
Lloyd Mayor, Ari Mayzick, Lorenzo Pagano
So Young An, Laurel Dalley Smith, Anne O’Donnell
Anne Souder, Leslie Andrea Williams, Konstantina Xintara
Ricardo Barrett, Alyssa Cebulski, Jacob Larsen
Carley Marholin, Cara McManus
Marzia Memoli, Ty Speller

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 17, 2017

(See More Graham Company Reviews and Interviews.)

Sacred/Profane (2017): Video by Peter Sparling, Music by Xenharmonic Gamelan: Deborah Hochberg, Clem Fortuna, Frank Pahl, Photographs by Imogen Cunningham, Barbara Morgan, Edward Steichen, Featuring PeiJu Chien-Pott and Konstantina Xintara.

Primitive Mysteries (1931): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Louis Horst, Lighting by Nick Hung, Performed by PeiJu Chien-Pott and the Company.

Rust (2013): Choreography and Costumes by Nacho Duato, Assistant to Mr. Duato, Kevin Irving, Music by Arvo Pärt, Additional music by Pedro Alcalde, Lighting by Brad Fields, Performed by Abdiel Jacobsen, Ari Mayzick, Lloyd Mayor, Lorenzo Pagano, Ben Schultz.

Mosaic (2017): Choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Assistants to Mr. Cherkaoui: Jason Kittelberger and Jennifer White, Music by Felix Buxton, Costumes by Karen Young, Lighting by Nick Hung, Performed by Abdiel Jacobsen, Charlotte Landreau, Lloyd Mayor, Ari Mayzick, Anne O’Donnell, Lorenzo Pagano, Anne Souder, Leslie Andrea Williams, Xin Ying.

Diversion of Angels (1948): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Norman Dello Joio, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Konstantina Xintara, Ben Schultz, Xin Ying, Lorenzo Pagano, Charlotte Landreau, Lloyd Mayor, So Young An, Marzia Memoli, Anne Souder, Leslie Andrea Williams, Jacob Larsen.

The February 2017 run of the Martha Graham Dance Company, now thriving in resplendent form, thanks to the nurturing and masterful leadership of its Artistic Director, Janet Eilber, performed four works tonight at The Joyce, two choreographed by Martha Graham in 1931 and 1948, and two choreographed by contemporary artists, in 2013 and 2017. Three of the four works (minus the Duato work) blended into an eclectic selection of modern dance designs, highlighting this season’s thematic title, “Sacred/Profane”.

Peter Sparling, a former Principal dancer in the Graham Company, 1973-87, created a video with music by Xenharmonic Gamelan, a collage of Graham photographs by Imogen Cunningham, Barbara Morgan, and Edward Steichen, and a sensuous filmatic performance by the Graham Company’s renowned dancers, PeiJu Chien-Pott and Konstantina Xintara. The music is surreal and atmospheric, and the motion is inspired by Graham’s contraction-release and yearning gestures. During each night of this run, Mr. Sparling’s film greeted the audience, as it filed into the hall, and continued until the first comments by Ms. Eilber, who always introduces the evening’s dances with educated wit and engaging anecdotes.

Martha Graham’s 1931 Primitive Mysteries, to a score by Louis Horst, is divided into three vignettes for the all-female cast, led by PeiJu Chien-Pott, “Hymn to the Virgin”, “Crucifixus”, “Hosanna”. Ms. Chien-Pott arrives, with lovely, long, dark hair flowing down a lovely, long, white dress, an amazing figure in the circle of female celebrants of an American Southwest, Catholic ritual, originally introduced to the region by Spanish conquerors. This Miracle Play, to a score by Ms. Graham's favorite composer, with palpable silences and percussive feet, found Ms. Chien-Pott in strong form and persuasive theatricality. Every stylistic "contraction/release", signature Graham, was performed by the Company in synchronized rhythm. At the beginning and end of each of the three segments, the ensemble enters and exits in silence, heel to toe, signature Graham walking motif. Ms. Graham’s roots and passion for Native American cultural traditions are inherently woven throughout the Catholic religious imagery of this early repertory dance. The ensemble is costumed in deep blue, with Ms. Chien-Pott costumed in flowing white, like a blooming cactus flower. The outstretched arms and serious attitudes added mysticism and drama to this iconic presentation.

Still seemingly experimental and avant-garde, after four years, Nacho Duato’s 2013 Rust, performed by five men, unfortunately exemplifies street torture, with kicking, knifing, catapulting, and cowering. The shirts pull over the head, from the rear, exposing the chests. The electronic, Alcalde score, added to Arvo Pärt’s music, generates ambient angst. The dance, or action that is, is propulsive, against a chanting religiously imbued score. Obviously, Mr. Duato has socio-political intent in his visual-musical theme, but this work is better suited for another program, another Company. It has nothing to add to Graham repertory.

However, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Mosaic, with a score by Felix Buxton, costumes by Karen Young, was thoroughly absorbing and elevating. In a combined Middle-Eastern-Israeli inspired score, arranged by Mr. Buxton, a multicultural mosaic is fabricated, tile by tile, dancer by dancer, in solos and ensemble vignettes. Dancers attach and dis-attach in energized groups in motion, and, as one becomes unglued, another becomes affixed. Nine Company dancers, four women and five men, interact with glowing, colorful rafter lighting by Nick Hung. It should be immediately noted that I have never seen the Company in such rare form, and the combination, just to name a few, of Lloyd Mayor, Charlotte Landreau, and Abdiel Jacobsen onstage together is an astounding experience. All the youthful Principals and rising stars have talent, personality, enthusiasm, and tireless energy. The charisma scale is off the charts this season. And, in the midst of intertwining togetherness and spacial solitude, the hypnotic music, smoke, lighting, and stunning costume shift from opaque, dark pleats to transparent, nude unitards with tattoo drawings, we hear recorded clips of “Yedid Nefesh”, “Moses”, and “Moshe” by Mr. Buxton’s selection of composers.

Graham’s 1848 Diversion of Angels, with her classic one-leg, elongated lifts, was performed by the crème de la crème of the Company. These dancers, in triangular postures and group formations, make full use of the stage, in effervescent and energetic leaps, prancing and dashing in various stages of love. The three sets of partners, in white (for mature love), red (for erotic love), and yellow (for adolescent love), create emerging and merging combinations with the remainder of the ensemble. Konstantina Xintara and Ben Schultz, as mature love, are always poised, calm, and centered in this role. Charlotte Landreau and Lloyd Mayor (a newly formed dynamic duo to watch), as adolescent love, are throwing kisses and dashing to and fro in Martha Graham's signature style. Xin Ying and Lorenzo Pagano, as erotic love, were glistening and trembling with passion. The beige costumes of the male partners enabled the three flowing costumes, in white, yellow, and red, to be vividly showcased, underscoring Graham’s symbolism. As the Chorus, five dancers added splendid support.

Kudos to all, and kudos to Martha Graham.

PeiJu Chien-Pott and the Martha Graham Dance Company
in Martha Graham’s “Primitive Mysteries.”
Courtesy of Brigid Pierce

PeiJu Chien-Pott, Leslie Andrea Williams,
and the Martha Graham Dance Company
in Martha Graham’s “Primitive Mysteries.”
Courtesy of Brigid Pierce

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