Riding the Next Wave With Martha Graham Troupe
Series performed in N.Y.C. festival revisits choreographer's bold, legendary works
NEW YORK — SO thoroughly does the spirit of artistic innovation permeate the works of Martha Graham that the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) opened its annual Next Wave Festival last week with something unthinkable for a performing arts series devoted to the cutting edge: a retrospective.
``Radical Graham,'' the redundantly titled offering of the Martha Graham Dance Company, features 18 compositions spanning 72 years. They range from early kitsch to the most famous dance of this century, ``Appalachian Spring,'' and will be performed through Oct. 9.
The opening night gala was a grand disappointment. Smacking of veneration and freighted with forgettable early works, it gave too few hints of the greatness to come. ``Steps in the Street'' (1936) and ``Deep Song'' (1937), however, offered glimpses of the impassioned soul-searching that became Graham's trademark. And ``Lamentation,'' a haunting solo from 1930, truly satisfied. For the revival, Kathy Buccellato, Denise Vale, and Myra Woodruff performed the solo simultaneously.
The rest of the evening was given largely to crowd-pleasers such as ``Serenata Morisca'' (1918), ``Celebration'' (1934), ``Maple Leaf Rag'' (1990), and Graham's dreadful 1978 version of the fairy tale ``The Owl and The Pussycat.'' Of these merry dances, only Janet Eilber's performance of ``Satyric Festival Song'' (1932) consistently hit the right notes.
Far more rewarding was a revival of ``Clytemnestra,'' Graham's monumental 1958 adaptation of Aeschylus' ``Oresteia,'' on a subsequent evening. Christine Dakin's masterful performance as the Queen of Argos revealed Graham's technique at its best, as a medium for expressing depths of grief. Snapping forward with contractions of her torso, Dakin gave palpable expression to Clytemnestra's mental torment.
Greek legend has it that Queen Clytemnestra savagely murdered her husband, King Agamemnon, when he returned home from the Trojan War. Before going off to battle 10 years earlier, he had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to gain favorable winds for his fleet. The tale turns bloodier still when Orestes, their son, avenges his father's death by murdering Clytemnestra.
For Aeschylus, these proud recriminations mirrored a deeper crisis of flawed justice within Athenian democracy. Graham, composing ``Clytemnestra'' at the height of McCarthyism, surely knew the political message had lost none of its currency. Yet her chief interest lay elsewhere, in what she called ``the dangerous landscape of the mind.''
In addition to Dakin, memorable performances were given by Denise Vale as Cassandra, whose prophesies go unheeded; Floyd Flynn as the ghoulish Hades; and Terese Capucilli as the vengeful Electra. The Furies (Elizabeth Auclair, Katherine Crockett, Rika Okamoto, Alessandra Prosperi, Amanda Thomas, and Myra Woodruff) were as cold-blooded as reptiles.
Directed by Pearl Lang, who danced for Graham in the 1940s and '50s, the three-hour dance uses a replica of the original set by sculptor Isamu Noguchi and emulates the original lighting by Jean Rosenthal. A live performance by the Brooklyn Philharmonic gave Halim El-Dabh's score an unearthly quality.
`RADICAL GRAHAM'' sets the tone for a busy season of modern dance in New York. Following are some of the highlights:
* Bella Lewitzky, whom peers describe as the national conscience of dance, returns from Los Angeles after a 15-year absence. It was Lewitzky, 78, who filed the lawsuit that overturned the obscenity clause Congress had imposed on federal arts funding. Social issues continue to shape her uncompromising choreography. Her 10-member company performs through Oct. 9 at the Joyce Theater.
* The Paul Taylor Dance Company celebrates its 40th anniversary this year amid speculation that Taylor is losing interest in dance. Two world premieres should be enough to dispel such rumors when the company returns to City Center Oct. 11 through 23. But a glance at the program finds little evidence of Taylor breaking new ground. ``Moonbine,'' set to a Debussy sonata, returns to familiar themes of darkness and luck. ``Funny Papers'' borrows from the choreographic forays of Taylor's senior dancers, including the gifted Hernando Cortez.
* The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, appearing Nov. 30 through Dec. 3 at BAM, is this season's hot ticket. Jones, who won a MacArthur ``genius'' award in June, presents ``Still/Here,'' his epic meditation on love and loss. The dance premiered last month in Lyon, France, and draws from public discussions about mortality that Jones organized last year.
* Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, which has acquired several Twyla Tharp classics, performs Oct. 18-30 at the Joyce Theater. Directed by Lou Conte, the 22-member company will perform a premiere by James Kudelka as well as Tharp's ``Nine Sinatra Songs,'' ``The Golden Section,'' and ``Baker's Dozen.''
* Lar Lubovitch Dance Company celebrates its 25th anniversary with the New York premiere of ``So In Love,'' set to Cole Porter songs.
* The Susan Marshall Company unveils two new works - ``Spectators at an Event,'' with music by Henryk Gorecki, and ``Fields of View,'' with music by Philip Glass - Nov. 9-13 at BAM.
* Garth Fagan Dance returns to the Joyce Theater Nov. 15-27 with at least one premiere. An engaging choreographer, Fagan will talk to the audience after a performance on Nov. 23.
* Pina Bausch/Tanztheater Wuppertal returns to BAM Nov. 17-23 for the American premiere of ``Two Cigarettes in the Dark.''
* The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, performing Dec. 7-Jan. 1, 1995 at City Center Theater, presents world premieres by Brenda Way and Elisa Monte.