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Martha Graham Dance Company: Clytemnestra Act II, Woodland, Ekstasis, Maple Leaf Rag
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Martha Graham Dance Company: Clytemnestra Act II, Woodland, Ekstasis, Maple Leaf Rag

- Onstage with the Dancers


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Martha Graham Dance Company
(Graham Company Website)

Sacred/Profane
Video by Peter Sparling
Clytemnestra Act II
Woodland
Ekstasis
Maple Leaf Rag

At
The Joyce Theater
www.joyce.org

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 25, 2017


(See More Graham Company Reviews and Interviews.)

Program:
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.

Clytemnestra Act 2 (1958): Choreography by Martha Graham, Music by Halim El-Dabh, Set by Isamu Noguchi, Original costumes by Martha Graham and Helen McGehee, Original lighting by Jean Rosenthal, adapted by Beverly Emmons, Performed by PeiJu Chien-Pott as Clytemnestra, Ben Schultz as Agamemnon’s Ghost, Abdiel Jacobsen as Orestes, Xin Ying as Electra, Lloyd Mayor as Aegisthus, Anne O’Donnell, Anne Souder, Leslie Andrea Williams as The Furies.

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 Laurel Dalley Smith, Ari Mayzick, 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 tonight at The Joyce, three choreographed by Martha Graham in 1933, 1958, and 1990, and one choreographed by a contemporary artist in 2016. All four works 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 loved to enact Greek tragedies for her mythical modern dances, and they are always gripping and theatrical. Her 1958 work, Clytemnestra, tonight excerpted to Clytemnestra Act 2, with a score by Halim El-Dabh, is particularly grueling in plot, but astounding as dance drama. PeiJu Chien-Pott, a striking figure always, was Queen Clytemnestra, who is surrounded by her two living children, her son, Orestes, Abdiel Jacobsen, and daughter, Electra, Xin Ying. The children plot profound revenge for the murder of their father, Agamemnon, whose ghost is danced by Ben Schultz. Agamemnon was his wife’s victim, due to his cruel sacrifice of a second daughter, Iphigenia. Clytemnestra has a lover, Aegisthus, Lloyd Mayor, who urged her to act on impulse. Ms. Chien-Pott was stunning throughout, filled with angst, pulling her torso into her abdomen in Graham’s renowned contraction-releases. She squeezed her internal muscles, as she bent into a human ball, dancing as if dead. The plot above thickened further, and the mood was dark. There was a sense of constant foreboding, yearning, revenge without reflection or redemption, complexity and charged charisma. Abdiel Jacobsen and Xin Ying, as Orestes and Electra, hovered and clung at the edge of the action, but they, too, are in mesmerizing motion. The recorded score was eerie and propulsive. Anne O’Donnell, Anne Souder, and Leslie Andrea Williams, as The Furies, were filled with pathos.

I have been a fan of Pontus Lidberg in past viewings, such as his 2010 Faune and his 2014 This Was Written on Water, both viewed in the Fall for Dance Festival. Woodland, which last year had seemed a silly and ghoulish work, this year seemed more appealing. A woman embodies a teen student (Xin Ying), who’s surrounded by eerie creatures in the woodlands, forming four duos of mixed sexuality and emotional motifs. I thought of Graham’s Errand into the Maze, in which Ariadne physically confronts and successfully conquers the Minotaur, after exiting her maze of symbolic rope. Yet, Woodland is not overtly violent or threatening, but, rather, mystical and more abstract. Irving Fine’s “Notturno for Strings and Harp” adds to the morphing, midnight mayhem. When the dancers don Wintercroft’s designed masks, with animalistic horns, all eyes meet Ms. Ying’s. I recalled my days on an upstate deck in the darkness, meeting shining eyes of deer, foxes, racoons, and opossum. It’s a strange encounter to meet nocturnal woodland creatures, who communicate in dark silence. The creatures dance in lines, duets, and prostate stage positions.

The Graham Company alumna, Virginie Mécène, now its Program Director and Director of Graham 2, reimagined Martha Graham’s 1933 solo dance, Ekstasis, and assigned the role to the masterful PeiJu Chien-Pott. The reimagining occurred after thorough research of archived photographs and possibly reviews and notes. Ekstasis was scored to an original composition by Lehman Engel, which now, too, is reimagined by Ramon Humet. Ms. Chien-Pott is mesmerizing in a long, golden, tightly fitting, stretch fabric, Graham-designed costume. Her hip is angularly bent up, arms stretched straight and forward, as if holding a crown on her head. This new repertory work is a fantastic addition to the Company seasons.

I had the pleasure of seeing Graham’s 1990 Maple Leaf Rag, her 180th and final work, and then Ms. Graham appeared onstage in her gold Halston gown and took a bow. Only about six months later, Ms. Graham would die at the age of 96. She had discovered the Joggling (or Toggling) Board in South Carolina and brought some back to her studio for this upbeat, rambunctious work, scored to Scott Joplin’s piano tunes. The Joggling Board, being very adaptable, upon which the dancers rest and glide and perform various physical feats, is the one black set against the blue backdrop and the brightly colored costumes. Using the body as art, the Company performs miraculous choreography, with bent arms, elbows, and joints, to the rousing Joplin “Elite Syncopations”, “Bethena”, and, of course, “Maple Leaf Rag”. Ms. Grahams' close collaborator and Music Director, Louis Horst, used to play Maple Leaf Rag for her to cheer her up, during rehearsals, and, at the beginning of this work, Ms. Graham’s own recorded voice asks “Louis” to play for her this tune. 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. Konstantina Xintara was poised and elegant as the lady in flowing white, who enters and exits as one who silently marks the beginning of a new song. This piece is so contrasting to Clytemnestra Act 2, it’s almost impossible to imagine the sheer versatility of Martha Graham, until, lo and behold, Ms. Graham has inserted a walking motif from the 1933 Clytemnestra right into this 1990 frolicsome mayhem. The Graham aficionados went wild.

Kudos to all, and kudos to Martha Graham.



Xin Ying, Abdiel Jacobsen, Lorenzo Pagano, PeiJu Chien-Pott
in Martha Graham’s “Clytemnestra Act 2.”
Courtesy of Brigid Pierce




PeiJu Chien-Pott in Martha Graham’s “Clytemnestra Act 2.”
Courtesy of Brigid Pierce




Abdiel Jacobsen and Ben Schultz
in Martha Graham’s “Clytemnestra Act 2.”
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 zlokower@bestweb.net