An Interview with Erica Dankmeyer
- Offstage with the Dancers
By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
Erica Dankmeyer (firstname.lastname@example.org), an Artistic Director, Dancer, and Choreographer in her own Company, Dankmeyer Dance Company, a Williams College graduate, a Teacher at the Martha Graham School, and Performer in the Martha Graham Dance Company, has choreographed works for herself and for members of the Graham Company. Erica Dankmeyer is a vibrant and eloquent woman and a pleasure to interview. Ms. Dankmeyer is the subject of this inside perspective.
October 1, 2002, with Erica Dankmeyer, at Starbuck's, West 57th Street.
Photo courtesy of Erica Dankmeyer
REZ - Tell me about your Williams College experience and how you became interested in dance as a career.
ED - I started Ballet at five and always had a love for dance. I was shy as a child, and my ultimate fantasy was dance. I was part of many jazz programs and musicals in elementary school and did dance performances in high school. I kept a love for dancing. The passion stayed with me. Williams College was such an opportunity for me, from San Mateo, California. I participated in the Williams College Dance Company. I worked on my first choreography at Williams College with Sandra Burton, a Martha Graham specialist. After Williams, I went to the American Dance Festival on the Duke Campus. I worked with David Hochoy, a Graham dancer.
REZ - I'd like to focus, a bit, on Martha Graham, my hero. Tell me what it is about the Martha Graham technique and style that drew you in.
ED - I was drawn to the floor work, standing work, and traveling work, the focus of Martha Graham. I had taken a Summer Intensive at the Graham School on East 63rd Street. It was like taking ballet barre. It was not just about being beautiful and being placed, but about drama. I could not sit on the floor with my back straight. The focus was on the torso, the opposite of any training I had had. In the torso, the organs, heart, and lungs are contained. This is an inherent emotional quality that you don't get in other forms of dance. The falls and recoveries are so beautiful, like a ritual.
REZ - Did you specifically study the mythology that Graham uses in her dance themes?
ED - Her technique is canonized (a series of exercises that's always the same), with the breathing, the spirals, the bouncing, and the exercise on three, all developed over time. I studied her style and watched her dances. Everyone in the Company and the School has their own opinion and their own interpretation of the Graham technique.
I study the old myths. I'm not interested in re-inventing this. I take the characterization of the Minotaur in "Errand into the Maze", a strong character, and I actualize this character on stage. Martha Graham was a total genius. She creates a whole picture and has it all make sense, including the costumes.
Martha Graham has been gone for eleven years. Her last piece, "Maple Leaf Rag", will be part of the upcoming Program in January at The Joyce Theater. I'll perform in "Maple Leaf Rag", "Chronicle", Phaedra", "Appalachian Spring", "Dark Meadow", "Satyric Festival Song" (a solo), "Diversion of Angels", as the Woman in Yellow, and possibly others. The NY Season will run January 21, 2002, through February 2, 2002.
REZ - So, how do you juggle the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Martha Graham School of Dance, and your own Dance Company?
ED - During layoff time, when the Dance Company does not perform, I have my own season. I have so many showcases. This series of performances was a first. I had always shared a concert. This has raised issues, like how to deal with opportunities. I'm a one-person shop, and we had lots of press, which exceeded my expectations. I'm creating new works, and it's so exciting to have a premiere of a new work. I had a nice big stage (St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery) for "Tree Line", a twenty-minute work
REZ - What is the history of your involvement in the Graham School and in the Company, and what's your current role?
ED - I started as a student in 1992 at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. Then I won a scholarship, in 1996 and in 1998, due to a Bi-Annual Competition, sponsored by the Emergency Fund for Student Dancers, in which I represented the Graham School and choreographed a solo
REZ - And, to again fast-forward?
ED - So, I joined the Company in 1996. I fell in love with the drama and the physical challenge, the idea that what you are doing with your body helps you tell the story. I felt safe in this technique, doing that - expressing myself, with Graham as my base, building my character.
REZ - Tell me more about what you are doing now, at the Martha Graham Dance Company.
ED - I'm in a preliminary rehearsal for January. I'm a member of the faculty, but, since I'm in rehearsal now, I'm not currently teaching. I've worked with the ensemble and gone with them on lecture demonstrations. I also worked with kids in Valley Stream, LI, for a Benefit for the September 11 Memorial Fund, held in May, 2002.
REZ - What's happening now with the Martha Graham Dance Company?
ED - It's been officially declared that the Company is the rightful owner of almost all of her dance pieces.
REZ - How long has it been, since the Martha Graham Dance Company has performed?
ED - On last May 9, we had a one-night performance at City Center. It was totally sold out, and we rehearsed for free. We felt that the legal decision would be favorable, and that the company would soon perform again. We kept the School open, so the students could learn from Company members. The School received its accreditation again, after being closed for a while, by the board of Directors.
REZ - How did you meet Deborah Zall?
ED -- We met through a mutual friend and became close. "Amanda's Solo" was part of a bigger piece, the theme of Tennessee Williams' "Glass Menagerie". Deborah Zall studied with and learned some repertoire from Martha Graham. Deborah and I connected on the drama. I sometimes substitute teach for her at La Guardia High School.
REZ - I loved your own recent Company performance. Can you tell me a bit about the pieces?
ED - Deborah Zall created "Amanda's Solo". "Likings for Shadows" was created during a residence at Jacksonville, and I added material about female ancestry. In "The Distance Within", I did not know Morley. Morley invented the piece for Martin Lofsnes. In "Tree Line", I sought leotards that were hand-painted and natural. I had a lot of fun making the part for Christophe Jeannot. The piece is primal and predatory, like a brush fire. One male dancer was fire and one was wind. The two elements interacted.
REZ - Good Luck with everything, and thank you so much.
ED - Thank you.