Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Martha Graham Closes With Powerful Weapon

Lloyd Knight in Sophie Maslow's "I Ain't Got No Home," which is part of the Martha Graham Dance Company's "Dance Is a Weapon" montage. Photos by Kerville Cosmos Jack.


and Socialism have been dirty words in the United States these last 60 to 70 years. In the 1920s and ‘30s, they were a vibrant part of the political dialog.

The montage, “Dance Is a Weapon,” presented at the 85th Anniversary of the Martha Graham Dance Company as a reprise of its “Political Dance Project,” shows how artists contributed to that conversation, turning their art from a comment into social action.
(See video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ut9XjQ8RESE.)

“Dance Is A Weapon” is a composite of five polemical works framed by a film and narration created by Victoria Geduld with Ellen Graff and narrated by the latter.

Each dance is a statement demonstrating strength and solidarity. The film sets the historic context of these dances, created between 1924 and 1941, all short and each by a different choreographer.

Isadora Duncan is arguably the first “modern dancer,” using the whole body in motion, rather than focusing on steps and arm positions for expression. Her “The Revolutionary” from 1924, in honor of the proletariat’s struggle in Russia and restaged by Lori Belilove, has muscular force, as if the dancer were one of those Soviet-era statues come to movement.

“Tenant of the Street,” by Eve Gentry and re-staged by Dr. Mary Anne Santos Newhall, is a poignant slow-moving look at homelessness and hunger. The solo female dancer moves deliberately to the sounds from the street, which are the score for this piece.

The music for “I Ain’t Got No Home” is by Woody Guthrie. The lively dance, by Sophie Maslow, restaged by Lynn Frielinghaus and Abigail Blatt, is “dust bowl” Americana, performed with verve by Oliver Tobin.

Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch in Eve Gentry's "Tenant of the Street" from "Dance Is a Weapon."

“Time Is Money” uses a hypnotic poem written by Sol Furnaroff and read by Margaret Klenck as background for the limber and acrobatic movement of dancer Maurizio Nardi. Choreographer Jane Dudley, in this piece restaged by Martin Lofsnes, presents the worker’s perspective on the monotony and meaninglessness of factory work.

Martha Graham’s “Panorama” closes “Dance Is a Weapon.” MG’s anthem to the power of people for change is optimistic. Restaged by Amelie Bernard and Oliver Tobin, the dance uses a group of 30 student dancers as it did when it was created in 1935.

Also on the program was MG’s tribute to the spirit of America. Aaron Copeland called the music he wrote for this piece “Ballet for Martha” and MG renamed it “Appalachian Spring.” The work, commissioned in 1942 and completed in 1944, was MG’s simple gift to a nation about to come out of World War II.

The stylized sets of a farm with a rocking chair on the porch are by MG’s longtime collaborator, Isamu Nogiuchi. MG designed the elegant and high-style costumes for her pioneering characters. “Appalachian Spring” reflects innocence and hope in the fluid movement of the dance and the story of a young couple (Miki Orihara and Tadej Brdnik) on the verge of married life.

This latest season of the Martha Graham Dance Company has come to a close in New York City, but a tour is not out of the question.

Visit http://marthagraham.org/ to learn more about Martha Graham Dance Company and to sign up for its touring schedule.

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