by Walter Rutledge
The Martha Graham Dance Company opening night gala performance need only be described with one word…ART. The company began their four-performance season at New York City Center, Wednesday, March 19 with an abbreviated program that left the audience hungry for more. The new one-act revival of Clytemnestra opened the program. The work has been retooled to include program notes projected on the cyclorama introducing the various sections. This audience friendly approach prepares/ enlightens those not familiar with the story.
The works inner intensity requires an extremely high level of commitment from the dancers. Lloyd Knight’s sinuous opening crossing as the Messenger of Death set the tone for the rest of the work. When we are introduced to Queen Clytemnestra, performed with greater aplomb and command by Katherine Crockett, her regal yet vulnerable presence is captivating.
The entire cast was immersed in the work. Ben Shultz was stoic as the masked King Hades, Abdiel Jacobsen as Clytemnestra’s treacherous son portrayed a cool demeanor; Maurizio Nardi was sly and manipulative as her adulterous lover Aegisthus. Tadej Brdnik was cruelly omnipotent as Agamennon, while Natasha Diamond- Walker was alluring as Helen of Troy.
Panorama was performed as a collaborative effort between the Hellenic Dance Company of Greece and Graham 2. One of my favorite quotes by Leonardo Da Vinci correctly describes this work, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. The work flowed with a spatial and almost geometric ease, the cast of 35 performers relied on the strength in numbers to provide power and momentum to streaming patterns and simple gestures. The centerpiece of the work was a movement for five dancers that displayed visual balance through the use of asymmetrical movement and groupings.
The world premiere of Echo was an exciting departure from the Graham cannon and part of the new direction of the company. Although the work was also based on a Greek myth- Narcissus and Echo, it took a more conceptual approach. An oval around the center of the stage defined the boundaries for most of the action; and the lighting produced a clearing in a thick forest of darkness. Lloyd Mayor and Lorenzo Pagano as Narcissus and his image were enamored to the point of obsession in a relationship that could never be consummated. PeiJu Chien- Pott as the Echo was a prisoner of her own desire, doomed by unrequited love.
Choreographer Andonis Foniadakis’ movement style and approach to the thematic material was brilliant. The movement seemed to cascade from the center of the body and flow through the dancers and the stage into rivers of movement. At one point to create the echo effect three dancers joined Pott, then the quartet became a sextet and then octet. The subtle canon and unison was visual stunning. It was refreshing to see the dancers move in such a different yet equally committed manner. It demonstrated that these well trained dancers are craftsman first.
The Martha Graham Dance Company has three more evenings at New York City Center. You should make it a point to attend. This is not a museum company locked in preserving the past, instead this is a dynamic force determined to make an artistic contribution in the 21st century.