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Martha Graham Dance Company: Secular Games / Men’s Section, Histoire, El Penitente, Untitled (Souvenir), Chronicle

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Martha Graham Dance Company
(Graham Company Website)

The Eve Project
Secular Games/Men’s Section
El Penitente
Untitled (Souvenir)

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, Lloyd Knight, Ben Schultz
Xin Ying, Charlotte Landreau, Lloyd Mayor
Lorenzo Pagano, Anne Souder, So Young An
Laurel Dalley Smith, Jacob Larsen, Marzia Memoli
Anne O’Donnell, Leslie Andrea Williams, Alyssa Cebulski
Alessio Crognale, Cara McManus

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 3, 2019

(See More Graham Company Reviews and Interviews)

On my second night of the April 2019 Joyce Theater run of the Graham Company, once again the dancers and productions were in resplendent form, thanks to the nurturing and masterful leadership of its Artistic Director, Janet Eilber. Tonight they performed five works, three choreographed by Martha Graham in 1962, 1940, and 1936, and two choreographed by contemporary artists in 1999 and 2019. All five choreographies once again blended into an eclectic selection of modern dance designs, highlighting this season’s thematic title, “The EVE Project”. It should be noted that this season all choreographies presented are by Martha Graham and contemporary women artists.

Secular Games / Men’s Section (1962): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Robert Starer, Set and Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Performed by Men in the Company.

Tonight, on second viewing of this entertaining revival of a rarely seen 1962 work, we saw just the Men’s Section, with six male dancers in bathing suit briefs tossing a silver ball on a Socratic Island. They were even more fascinating than on last night’s viewing, and the male ensemble seemed more relaxed and loosely interacting, but in theatrical demeanor. The Robert Starer score was more familiar and more pleasant to the listener. Tonight I also focused on lighting and especially the island design by Jean Rosenthal, lovely and so artistic. Alessio Crognale and Lorenzo Pagano particularly caught my eye.

Histoire (Duet, 1999): Choreography by Lucinda Childs, Music by Krzysztof Knittel, Costumes by Karen Young, Lighting by Yi-Chung Chen, Performed by Laurel Dalley Smith and Lloyd Mayor.

A duet for Laurel Dalley Smith and Lloyd Mayor was featured tonight, excerpted from the fuller version of Lucinda Childs’ 1999 Histoire. The Krzysztof Knittel score, “Harpsichord III”, for harpsichord and tape, accompanies this upbeat, modernistic duet. Quasi tango-inspired choreography, minus the Piazzolla-scored choreography we saw last season, in Ms. Child’s expanded version of this modern ballet, is gorgeous. It is not Graham-lite, like several wannabe, post-Graham choreographies, but rather Graham-inspired. I do prefer the full-length version we saw last season, with the Graham dancers ebullient in the tangos of Piazzolla. However, tonight Ms. Dalley Smith and Mr. Mayor were splendid.

El Penitente (1940): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Louis Horst, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Lorenzo Pagano as Penitent, Ben Schultz as Christ Figure, and Marzia Memoli as Mary as Virgin, Magdalen, Mother.

This religiously based, abstract work, with circular marches, a play within a play, sets and costumes that casually change before our eyes, and self-flagellation, has an amorphous theme and a disturbing score. The episodes depicted in this dance have a consistent pulsating and marching choreography, with the Christ figure bearing a large prop turned angular cross, with the Penitent robed in archaic costumes, and with the female Mary in ever-changing cloths and figures, depending on her role of the moment. Mr. Schultz bore the cross with heaviness and fallen spirit. Ms. Memoli affected a different attitude and dance for each changing role. And, Mr. Pagano was most appropriate in the Penitent motif. The Noguchi set and Louis Horst score add intrigue to this ballet, a “play within a play”, as Graham program notes describe the Graham design.

Untitled (Souvenir) (2019): Choreography by Pam Tanowitz, Asst. Melissa Toogood, Music by Caroline Shaw, Costumes by Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin of TOME, Lighting by Yi-Chung Chen, Performed by an ensemble of nine. As soon as this work was complete, I had a desire to buy the costumes! Wide-legged pantaloons, silky designer tops, airiness imbued in each unique costume; the Graham Company should partner with TOME to outfit its Graham audiences, for a benefit event. But, back to the dance, it was so substantial, satisfying, and stunning. One viewing was clearly not enough to absorb this unique work, but the presence onstage of a few Graham sets, for dancers (figures) to pose on and dance about, was an impressive concept.

Ms. Tanowitz borrowed fragments of the Graham genre to enhance her own design, with angularity, plus off-center friezes (à la Taylor, a Graham protégé), long-limbed walking, leg lifts from the hip, distinctive partnering, and more. Caroline Shaw’s (female composers added to The EVE Project) “Punctum” for string quartet and “Valencia” for string quartet were sumptuous. Yi-Chung Chen’s lighting enhanced everything, and I do wish to see this work again.

Chronicle (1936): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Wallingford Riegger, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Steps in the Street Lighting for Reconstruction (“Steps in the Street”) by David Finley, Performed by Xin Ying in Spectre-1914, Performed by Anne Souder and the Company in Steps in the Street, Performed by Xin Ying, Anne Souder, and the Company in Prelude to Action.

Xin Ying, in Spectre-1914, now dancing at the top of her game, wears that iconic red and black endless costume, that covers a stage set, with flowing velvety brilliance. She now has the quintessential intensity and fluidity to project this work about the times of war. This is not a work about war itself, but a work for the women in the Company about the emotions of war. It illustrates agony, strength of mind, determination, perseverance, and mourning. Ms. Ying’s rearrangement of her burning red dress, as inside color becomes outside fire, was magnetic. The long, silent and sliding steps of the Company of women, led by Anne Souder, in Steps in the Street, in long black dresses, horizontal elbows, and silhouetted hands and faces were part myth/part reality. The tragic themes unfolded. Prelude to Action, featuring Ms. Ying, now in white and black, with Ms. Souder and the women in the Company, was, as always, forceful and feminine.

Kudos to all, and kudos to Martha Graham.

Lloyd Mayor, Lloyd Knight,
Alessio Crognale
in Martha Graham’s "Secular Games"
Courtesy of Luis Luque

Lorenzo Pagano and Marzia Memoli
in Martha Graham’s "El Penitente"
Courtesy of Melissa Sherwood

Charlotte Landreau, Laurel Dalley Smith,
Natasha Diamond-Walker,
Leslie Andrea Williams
in Pam Tanowitz’ "Untitled (Souvenir)"
Courtesy of Brian Pollock

Xin Ying
in Martha Graham’s "Chronicle"
Courtesy of Melissa Sherwood

Anne Souder
in Martha Graham’s "Chronicle"
Courtesy of Melissa Sherwood

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