Members of the Martha Graham Dance Company
Update: This post refers to dance performances that took place Friday and Saturday evening. Alas–you won’t have another opportunity to see the Martha Graham Dance Company in the Valley this weekend. To learn more about the Valley’s own modern dance company, visit www.centerdance.com. –Lynn 3/21/10
Tonight something truly special takes place in Scottsdale. I can say this with certainty because the same event took place last night, and I was in the audience.
The Martha Graham Dance Company is giving the second of two performances at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts tonight, March 20, at 8pm.
I felt, during Friday night’s performance, that I was experiencing work more powerful, important and enlightening than anything I’ve seen before.
You don’t want to miss it.
Graham (1894-1991) revolutionized not only dance, but many elements of theater as well—including costumes and lighting—according to the company’s artistic director, Janet Eilber.
Eilber guided patrons through Friday night’s performance with what felt like an intimate behind-the-scenes tour of the last 100 years of American—and even world—history.
Founded in 1926, the Martha Graham Dance Company is America’s oldest contemporary dance company. Think about it. That’s the same year that NBC was created, that George Burns married Gracie Allen, that Walt Disney studio was formed.
I felt a part of history witnessing the work of Graham’s company Friday evening—especially at a venue so rich and grand, yet warm and welcoming, in design.
I learned from the company’s website that Graham’s ballets were “inspired by a wide variety of sources.” These include “modern painting, the American frontier, religious ceremonies of Native Americans, and Greek mythology.”
I also discovered that Graham collaborated with a long list of the truly talented—from fashion designers like Halston to composers like Aaron Copeland. “Her company,” it notes, “was the training ground for…Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, and Twyla Tharp.”
Graham “created roles for classical ballet stars such as Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.” I was thrilled many years ago to attend a Baryshnikov performance at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts with my now 16-year-old daughter.
Lizabeth has ten years classical ballet training and many years of additional experience with diverse forms of dance, but had to miss last night’s performance because she was flying home from her first trip to Washington, D.C. and NYC.
We’ll be swapping stories today of my evening with the Martha Graham Dance Company and her first evening on Broadway, attending a production of “Next to Normal” at the Booth Theatre while most of her schoolmates did the “Phantom” thing.
I’m eager to tell Lizabeth that Graham taught many a gifted actor while “in charge of movement and dance” at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City—“where the Meisner Technique was born.”
Imagine yourself teaching Bette Davis, Liza Minnelli or Joanne Woodward—or maybe Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck or Tony Randall. Now imagine seeing the work of the woman who did so, and remember that tonight offers you this rare opportunity.
You can visit the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance website to learn more about Graham’s many accolades, honors and awards. You can even read her inspiring piece titled “I am a Dancer.”
But if you want to witness the fruits of her labor, you’ll need to make your way to Scottsdale this evening. Perhaps knowing that Graham’s influence rivals that of Picasso, Einstein, Frank Lloyd Wright and Stravinsky, will move you to attend.
The evening’s program, titled “Prelude and Revolt: Denishawn to Graham,” includes works by Graham and others which premiered between 1906 and 2007. It spans 100 years of dance in a little less than two hours time.
You’ll see the work of choreographer Ruth St. Denis. Eilber notes that it was seeing St. Denis dance while a teenager living in California that inspired Graham’s decision to dance.
You’ll see “Lamentation,” a 1930 piece featuring original choreography, costume and lighting by Graham. And you’ll see “Lamentation Variations,” three pieces by different choreographers—all developed to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11—that premiered at the Joyce Theatre in New York City on September 11, 2007.
You’ll see a work titled “Steps in the Street,” choreographed by Graham after she refused Joseph Goebbels’ invitation to perform in Berlin during 1936—feeling she couldn’t possibly dance in Germany with all that was occurring under Hitler’s Nazi party.
And you’ll see Graham’s “Diversion of Angels,” a piece depicting thee forms of love—adolescent, erotic and mature—that premiered in 1948. According to Eilber, Graham said that the work might be about three different women or about one woman during three different times in her life.
Graham choreographed for 70 years, producing works that reflected both her personal life and the times in which she lived. This year marks the company’s 84th season.
If you’re a lover of history, of strong women, of theater, of the physical human form, of dance, of beauty—you simply must seize this opportunity to experience your own life and times through the performance art of the Martha Graham Dance Company.
Note: You can learn more about Martha Graham before tonight’s performance by attending a 7:10pm-7:40pm round-table discussion with Frances Cohen in the Mezzanine Conference Room of the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Cohen, regional director of Wolf Trap, studied with Graham, danced professionally with Graham dancers and continues to teach the Graham technique to Valley dancers. Many of us have known Cohen as dance teacher to our children and director of Center Dance Ensemble, resident modern dance company of the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.