Stellar dance company keeps Martha Graham forever young


martha_graham_pics8asds-orgWow, Martha Graham. Your excellence, exactitude and relevance entered a new era as the vigorous and beautifully trained dancers of Martha Graham Dance Company simply shined in a well-selected repertory evening, Saturday, at Valley Performing Arts Center.

Onto the generous and beautifully lit VPAC stage, before a notably rapt, sold-out audience, paraded the latest crop of Graham dancers in happy celebration — not just of survival, but to the day marking the company’s 89th birthday. (MGDC had its debut on April 18, 1926.)

The troupe gave vivid renderings of signature treasures; first up was “Appalachian Spring,” still animated, still touching on its 70th anniversary. Then followed a pared-down but viscerally charged “Errand into the Maze,” dating from 1947. Watching soloist PeiJu Chien-Pott’s grinding (in a good way) delivery of Graham’s fearsome face-off with the Minotaur (this difficult role beautifully danced by Ben Schultz) was tantamount to slow motion film. Everything was solid and clear.

Martha-Graham-Dance-Company-in-Grahams-Errand-Into-the-Maze-1-photo-by-Cheryl-Mann-624x481Adding dimension and audience pleasure were the company’s nuggets of contemporary work: “Lamentation Variations” by Larry Keigwin, Kyle Abraham and “So You Think You Can Dance”‘s Sonia Tayeh.

Tayeh’s work, recently premiered in New York, smartly exploited the Graham technique’s native assets: strong rootedness into the floor, juicy, pliant extensions, while overlaying speed, alertness and sex.

150212_M_Graham_echo_014Capping the rich program was “Echo,” a swirling maelstrom, again beautifully lit and costumed in handsome wide-legged trousers for the men. Contributed by Greek-born Andonis Foniadakis, “Echo” is an inspired dance commission serving to bond the Graham company’s past to its present. It was thrilling to see the dancers unsparingly tear into contemporary choreography, sleekly delivering Foniadakis’s trademark perpetual motion and in the process, unambiguously dispelling any lingering cobwebs from Martha Graham’s dance closet.

Photos: “Errand,” Cheryl Mann; “Echo,” ArtsJournal

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