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The Martha Graham Dance Company Gala Stars Diana Vishneva and Fang-Yi Sheu

- Onstage with the Dancers: Special Events

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The Martha Graham Dance Company
(Graham Company Website)

Gala Performance
Honoring Lee and Marvin Traub

Guest Stars
Diana Vishneva
Fang-Yi Sheu

New York City Center
(NY City Center Website)

Martha Graham: Founder, Dancer, Choreographer
Artistic Director: Janet Eilber
Executive Director: LaRue Allen
Senior Artistic Associate: Denise Vale
Press: Jonathan Marder + Company

Martha Graham Dance Company:
Tadej Brdnik, Katherine Crockett, Jennifer DePalo,
Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, Maurizio Nardi, Miki Orihara,
Blakely White-McGuire, Lloyd Knight, Jacqueline Bulnes,
Mariya Dashkina Maddux, Samuel Pott, Ben Schultz,
PeiJu Chien-Pott, Andrea Murillo, Xiaochuan Xie,
Oliver Tobin, Iris Florentiny, Greta Campo,
Abdiel Jacobsen, Grace Song, Ying Xin

Press: Jonathan Marder + Company

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 14, 2012

(See More Graham Company Reviews)

Duet from Appalachian Spring (1944): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Aaron Copland, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Miki Orihara as The Bride and Tadej Brdnik as The Husbandman.

Tonight’s Graham Gala opened with a Bride, Miki Orihara, and her "Husbandman", Tadej Brdnik, dancing to Copland's upbeat score. Ms. Orihara was gleeful, taking side leaps, and looked ever so youthful, after 25 years with the Company. I’ve seen her in this role a multitude of times, and she always rivets the eye. Mr. Brdnik is muscular and compact, driven and dynamic. He too is a master of this role, This singular work visualizes a very singular American folk motif. This “Duet” excerpt does not include the “Followers”, “Preacher”, or “Pioneer Woman”, that perform in the full-length version. Focusing on the blissful duet, which is vital and vivacious, gives the viewer a synthesis of Ms. Graham’s concept of “springtime in the wilderness”.

Following this Duet, Janet Eilber, Artistic Director of the Graham Dance Company, greeted the audience and shared some of the Graham legacy and celebration. Tonight was a special event, honoring Lee and Marvin Traub, listed among the Company’s Benefactors. The event also featured two special Guests Artists, Diana Vishneva, Principal with American Ballet Theatre, and Fang-Yi Sheu, a former Principal with the Graham Company, now founder of Fang-Yi Sheu and Artists. Both Guest Artists danced tonight.

Errand into the Maze (1947): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Gian Carlo Menotti, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by Diana Vishneva and Abdiel Jacobsen. Ms. Vishneva, a Principal ballerina with Ballet Theatre, performed this renowned Graham work with fullness and a rounded, sweeping effect. Although she was not the sharp angular vision one is used to with Graham Principals, Ms. Vishneva mastered the technique and shapes. Although her face remained balletic, not exuding the requisite grimaces and wrinkles, that fear and self-torment force, she created a vision of visceral struggle and propulsive determination. But, Ms. Vishneva performed the role with vulnerability, a less-hardened approach. Mr. Jacobsen was astounding in his magnetism and stark muscularity.

Ariadne conquers the Minotaur in this mythological oeuvre, and the Isamu Noguchi maze of ropes finally collapses when she does. This theatrical metaphor of conquering fear, known and unknown, internalized and externalized, with Abdiel Jacobsen as the Minotaur, is mesmerizing and tormented. Ariadne tries twice to overcome the enormous physical power of the near naked and strapped figure, overflowing with iron muscles and strapped horns and stick, as she contemplates her rope and her hiding place. Finally, she breaks her pattern and breaks her tormentor. The maze of rope reflects the maze of her mind and the maze of the myth, with the V- formed set, perhaps illustrative of a sexual fear as well, as the Minotaur leaps and pounces over the fallen female figure, prior to his own downfall.

Kudos to Ms. Vishneva taking on this decisive artistic challenge, and kudos to Mr. Jacobsen for his virtuosity.

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 Katherine Crockett, Samuel Pott, Blakely White McGuire, Tadej Brdnik, Xiaochua Xie, Lloyd Knight, and members of the Company.

It was during Graham’s iconic Diversion of Angels, that I was acutely aware that the Company is in marvelous hands and performing at peak potential. With the classic Graham one-leg lifts, 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 five additional members of the Company.

Katherine Crockett and Samuel Pott, as mature love, were sanguine, serene, and self-assured in this role. Xiaochuan Xie and Lloyd Knight, as adolescent love, are ebullient and flirtatious, frolicking to and fro in Graham's signature style. Blakeley White-McGuire and Tadej Brdnik, as erotic love, exuded effervescence and abandon. All three couples displayed impassioned togetherness. The beige costumes of the male partners enabled the three flowing costumes, in yellow, red, and white, to be extremely showcased, underscoring the symbolism.

Chronicle (1936): Choreography and Costumes by Martha Graham, Music by Wallingford Riegger, Original Lighting by Jean Rosenthal, Steps in the Street Lighting for Reconstruction by David Finley, Spectre-1914 and Prelude to Action Lighting for Reconstruction by Steven L. Shelley, Performed by Fang Yi-Sheu in Spectre-1914, Performed by Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch and the Company in Steps in the Street, Performed by Fang Yi-Sheu, Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, and the Company in Prelude to Action.

What could be more perfect for a Gala than seeing Graham’s entire Chronicle performed as one unit. This all-female contingent, led by the estimable Fang-Yi Sheu, with another lead by Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, first brings out Ms. Sheu, alone, in the iconic, brilliant, red and black dress, that epitomizes the color of war. Ms. Graham’s legacy was indeed radiant and reverent. The dress becomes scenery, shifting in fabric tone, held high, or enveloping the stage. Ms. Sheu’s torso and pelvis took on a life of their own, as she fully exemplified Ms. Graham’s “contraction-release” techniques. Her face was intense, severe, and electrified, as she (and later the Company) became the metaphor for the casualty of war. The Wallingford Riegger score is exacting, percussive, sensational.

“Steps in the Street” was led by Ms. Ellmore-Tallitsch. Its segments are titled “Devastation-Homelessness-Exile”. One by one, and then the ensemble, appears almost silently, shuffling deliberately, sideways, like a Greek vase figure, heel-toe in Graham barefoot mode. Dresses are long, tight-fitting black, and the dancers’ affect is collectively mournful. If ever there were a face of war, this is it. Ms. Tallitsch was commanding, compelling, charged, and the Company, especially Katherine Crockett and Jacqueline Bulnes, enhanced this performance with transporting intensity. The full ensemble was pure perfection in its recreation of this immortal work. “Prelude to Action” brought Ms. Sheu back in a white-black dress, and this time she was ablaze with fevered leaps and lunges, all intrinsically in the Graham motif of primal power. The full ensemble, again, grabbed the viewer’s attention throughout.

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

Diana Vishneva and Abdiel Jacobsen
in Martha Graham's "Errand into the Maze"
Courtesy of Costas

Fang-Yi Sheu in Martha Graham's "Chronicle"
Courtesy of Costas

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