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Martha Graham Dance Company: Dark Meadow Suite, Woodland, Ekstasis, Maple Leaf Rag

- Onstage with the Dancers

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Martha Graham Dance Company
(Graham Company Website)

Video by Peter Sparling
Dark Meadow Suite
Maple Leaf Rag

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 26, 2017 Matinee

(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.

Dark Meadow Suite (1946): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Arrangement by Janet Eilber, Music by Carlos Chávez, Lighting by Nick Hung, Performed by Lloyd Mayor, Anne Souder, and an ensemble of eight dancers.

Woodland (2016): Choreography by Pontus Lidberg, Music by Irving Fine, Costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, Mask pattern designs by Wintercroft Designs, Lighting by Nick Hung, Performed by Xin Ying and an ensemble of four women and five men.

Ekstasis (1933): Choreography by Martha Graham, reimagined by Virginie Mécène, Costume by Martha Graham, Original Music by Lehman Engel, Reimagined by Ramon Humet, Performed by PeiJu Chien-Pott.

Maple Leaf Rag (1990): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Scott Joplin, Costumes by Calvin Klein, Lighting by David Finley, Performed by Charlotte Landreau, Lloyd Mayor, Konstantina Xintara, and the Company.

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 today at The Joyce, three choreographed by Martha Graham in 1933, 1946, and 1990, and one choreographed by a contemporary artist in 2016. All four choreographies 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.

The reconfigured 2016 Dark Meadow Suite, made of highlights from Graham’s full 1946 work, Dark Meadow, is replete with American Southwest cultural, rhythmic, and visual references. There are group dances and duo partnering, with gorgeous costumes in earthen colors, long skirts and cropped tops for women, and brief, strapped costumes for men. Dancers slap their sides, step with pronounced percussive effects, and women stretch from their ankles, where men are holding them down at an angle. Women reverently face the audience, and gaze, arms held up in Native American gestural motifs. Nick Hung’s lighting matches the orange in Ms. Graham’s costumes, and the music by Carlos Chávez is enchanting. This is an abstract potpourri of Martha Graham’s iconic dance form, with percussive contractions and releases, one-leg lifts, deep stretches off-balance, determined beats to the step, and muscular, dramatic walking across the stage. The mood is reverent.

As the cast of Pontus Lidberg’s Woodland did not change from last night, I took the opportunity to focus on the visual gestalt. On this third viewing (since last season) of this midnight, meandering caper of a ballet, with dancers adorning themselves with animalistic horns and masks, by Wintercroft, for a moment the piece seemed like a noir, minimalist version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Xin Ying, once again, seemed puzzled at the eyes gazing in the moonlight, and the shifting patterns of the ensemble made Ms. Ying’s thematic fate enigmatic. This cast was far from a college fling in the park. There was a sense of eerie, opaque darkness, although the stage sparkled in Nick Hung’s lighting.

PeiJu Chien-Pott repeated her solo, Ekstasis, a 1933 Graham work, reimagined by the Director of Graham Programs and Graham 2, Virginie Mécène. The long, tightly stretched, corn gold costume allowed Ms. Chien-Pott to lift her hip sideways and upward, her torso undulating, her feet filled with pulse. It would have been interesting to see new casting here, especially as this is a solo work, and different interpretations would have added texture and spark to the sequential performances of this rare revival. Ms. Mécène relied on archival photographs to work with in the recreation process.

Ms. Graham’s 1990 Maple Leaf Rag did, however, feature new casting this afternoon. Leslie Andrea Williams was the woman in the white, circular flowing dress, who cartwheels and mimes faux hauteur in purposefully exiting with drama, between each musical vignette on or off the wooden Joggling Board (also called Toggling Board). Moreover, Laurel Dalley Smith and Ari Mayzick were the couple on the bench, flirting and cavorting. Ms. Graham’s own recorded voice asks “Louis” (Horst, her pianist/composer) to play the Scott Joplin tune for her. I love hearing her taped, earthy voice at the onset of each performance.

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 all, and kudos to Martha Graham.

Anne O’Donnell, Laurel Dalley Smith, Leslie Andrea Williams,
So Young An, Charlotte Landreau, Marzia Memoli
in Martha Graham’s “Dark Meadow Suite.”
Courtesy of Brigid Pierce

Marzia Memoli, Abdiel Jacobsen, Charlotte Landreau, Lloyd Mayor
in Martha Graham’s “Dark Meadow Suite.”
Courtesy of Brigid Pierce

PeiJu Chien-Pott in Martha Graham’s “Ekstasis”,
reimagined by Virginie Mécène.
Courtesy of Brigid Pierce

PeiJu Chien-Pott in Martha Graham’s “Ekstasis”,
reimagined by Virginie Mécène.
Courtesy of Brigid Pierce

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