Friday, March 21, 2014

Martha Graham, Reduced

PeiJu Chien-Pott and Lorenzo Pagano in Echo
I'm all for brevity—there is no sweeter lyric than "one hour, no intermission"—but not necessarily when it comes to reducing full-length Martha Graham dances to 20 minutes. The one-act version of Clytemnestra (1958) led off the gala evening program at City Center on Wednesday, with Katherine Crockett in the lead role. Introductory projected synopses provided the dance's basic plotlines and I suppose getting a taste of the myth is better than none at all. But with so many shorter dances to choose from, does it make sense to cut one of Graham's best-known full-length works?

Crockett stands out as the glamazon in the company, and her recent stints in acting with SITI Company no doubt have enhanced her dramatic skills. The other solo roles are so reduced in this short version that they make little impact. The six Furies, by their number, reinforce the visceral impact of Graham's style. And, as always, Noguchi's spare, sculptural set pieces resonate with the svelte, flattering womens' costumes by Graham and Helen McGehee. 

Panorama (1935) is a large group work danced here by Graham 2 and the Hellenic Dance Company. It has political shadings—the potential power of the people to bring about revolution and order, and more specifically, art's ability to effect change—but also can be a technical showcase for students or an entire large company. Clad in all red, the 35 dancers rush across the stage in small groups and through various traffic patterns; they mass, form a circle, and move in a ring, stopping to stamp a metatarsal in a kind of call to arms. Five are left onstage, and each dancer, suddenly filled with calm, strikes a different sculptural pose. The metaphorical possibilities are rich, but it could also simply be a formal exercise.

Andonis Foniadakis' Echo made its premiere on Wednesday. Narcissus (Lloyd Mayor) dances with his reflection (Lorenzo Pagano); they're observed by Echo (PeiJu Chien-Pott), who remains boxed out of their ego-fest. Foniadakis' style is quite engaging at first—swirling, cursive movement phrases that recall tai-chi for their flowing energy and logical continuity. Anastasios Sofroniou designed the knife-pleat, long skirts (that's nearly a trend, what with Ballets de Monte-Carlo's similarly pleated sheaths last week; do I hear three?) that flare out and float down like rippling sea cucumbers*, further expressing the movements' impetus. But there is little shift in dynamic, and the phrases take on a sameness. Seven shadow-like dancers in dark blue (the women wear half dresses, for some reason; the men turtlenecks) emerge from the shadows like harrowing restless spirits. Chien-Pott gets to swing her long ponytail in a circle, in a show of frustration, and Mayor and Pagano make convincing mirror images. It ended a brief, somewhat harried hour-long performance before the gala began—an odd, un-Martha-like act of dance deferring to fundraising. Not that I'm complaining.

* Post-script: A reader kindly pointed out that sea cucumbers are slug-like creatures familiar to us through Chinese banquets, not the fringy, rippling things I am picturing. So let's say, like parachutes. 

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