Give Me Music or Give Me Silence

September 12, 2007

The most arresting part of the Graham company’s opening night (Tuesday) was the 1932 film of Martha shown in slow-motion. And in utter silence. She was doing Lamentation, in silver-screen close-up. The house was mesmerized. Every iconic movement was there: the torquing torso that seemed to wring emotion from her; a contraction that throws her head back in exquisite agony; her rocking back and forth bound tightly by the fabric around her head and hands—like a caged animal.

    But one thing I had never noticed before (do they still do it in current Lamentation?) was that she put her hand up to her cheek. It was not just a moment of “Woe is me, how bad things are!” It was a private moment of self-comforting. She was really feeling the palm of her own hand stroking her own cheek. It was also, “This is all I have left: my hand, my face.” The sensory melded with the tragic. That is a moment I will not forget.

    Apparently Larry Keigwin didn’t either because he used the hand-on-face motif when he made his portion of Lamentation Variations, commissioned by Francis Mason, Jr. for the occasion. The whole 20-member company stood facing front, moving their hands around their faces, maybe looking into an imaginary mirror. It looked more like self-grooming than self-comforting.

    But still I applaud the effort to bring Graham into the 21st century by hiring young choreographers. For Lamentation Variations, which happened to be on the anniversary of 9/11, three choreographers were asked to “create a sketch “ responding to the film that was shown. Aszure Barton’s contribution was a duet that began in unison and broke from that, one woman becoming happy while the other was sad, or one outward and the other inward. They made faces like thrusting their tongue in their cheek (if it was meant to be literally “tongue in cheek”, then I didn’t get it till now). The second was Richard Move’s solo for the magnificent Katherine Crockett: an austere, extreme, slow, dramatic crossing of the space downstage. I’m glad that this more Graham-like one came between the other two.

    As for the two pieces of Graham’s shown live that night, Embattled Garden and Night Journey, it’s always good to see the choreography, but I miss Therese Capucilli and Christine Dakin. I miss Fang-yi Sheu. I miss the live music. Somehow the stage seems lonely.

    This past June, I happened to see the last five minutes of the company’s performance at the International Festival of Art and Ideas in Hew Haven. They were at the huge Shubert Theater, and I was sitting way up in balcony. The stage was filled with striding Graham dancers in Chronicle, musicians from the Yale School of Music played the Wallingford Reigger score resoundingly. It was terrifically exciting and the audience sprang up in an ovation.

    The next time I go to see the season at the Joyce, I’m going to sit further back. And I promise I will look at the dancers who are there instead of remembering the ones who are not.