Known as the rebellious mother of modern dance, Martha Graham’s dances filled with flexed feet and jarring and trembling movements were once called ugly. She’s now considered one of the 20th Century’s most important artists.
Honoring her legacy, the Martha Graham Dance Company performs “The Eve Project,” a mix of her iconic works and new choreography on January 22, at the Civic Theatre, part of the Women in Dance series, presented by the La Jolla Music Society.
“When I perform her work, I accept that I am preserving history,” says principal dancer Lloyd Knight. “I want people to recognize her importance and impact on dance. When I joined the company in 2005, I only did Graham classics, but we’re doing work by exciting new choreographers too. ‘Eve Project’ is a mix of classic and contemporary.”
“The Eve Project” includes Graham masterworks Diversion of Angels (1948), “Ekstasis” (1933), and “Chronicle” (1936) paired with “Untitled (Souvenir),” a new work by choreographer Pam Tanowitz that premiered last year.
“In ‘Diversion’ the men are shirtless,” Knight said “and the women wear symbolic costumes, red, yellow and white. And it’s about love. Watch a video clip.
“All of our costumes are historically authentic. Ms. Graham designed many costumes and the fabrics must transform into shapes. The program ends with ‘Chronicle,’ an all-women piece about power and fighting the fascists. It’s very modern and timeless. ”
Graham included dancers of color and created strong, independent images of women. She was inspired by Native American rituals and rejected Western dance forms. She performed and taught into her mid-70s. Before she died in 1991, at the age of 96, she’d crafted nearly 200 works. Some of her most famous works include “Frontier,” “Appalachian Spring,” and “Lamentation.”
Knight says there is pressure to preserve Graham’s unique style, but he doesn’t have to add drama to her work.
“We don’t have to put anything on top of her movement,” Knight said. “It’s already there. I want the audience to feel its power.
“We are the only Graham Company and nearly 100 years old. I started as a ballet dancer and now I warm up in Graham technique, which is so not ballet; it’s grounded. We are encouraged to go to the archives and study her work. The work by Pam (Tanowitz) is taken from Graham’s vocabulary, and it fits well, because it’s post-modern.”
Pam Tanowitz was encouraged by MGDC Artistic Director Janet Eilber, a Graham protégé, to “borrow” shapes and phrases from Graham’s “The Legend of Judith” and “Dark Meadow.”
After gleaning archival footage, Tanowitz asked Graham dancers to shift pieces around and remove all emotion, but keep the purely physical elements. We witness a fusion of artistry in “Untitled (Souvenir), and watch for dancers clutching a leg and skittering, and posing like a Grecian urn in a new way.
La Jolla Music Society presents Martha Graham Dance Company’s “The Eve Project” on Wednesday, January, 22, 2020, at the Civic Theatre.
The Women in Dance series continues with tap dancer Michelle Dorrance, Dorrance Dance “SOUNDspace,” March 19 & 20, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, April 18.