In The Studio: The Graham Company On Staying True to Martha's Vision and Voice
The much-anticipated Martha Graham Dance Company season at New York City Center is upon us. From April 11–14, the company will present classics like Chronicle, the sly melodrama Embattled Garden and of course Graham's visceral masterwork The Rite of Spring. This season also includes works by internationally acclaimed choreographers Lucinda Childs, Lar Lubovitch and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
We sat down with Graham artistic director Janet Eilber to talk about bringing back older Graham works, working with new choreographers and what Martha would have to say about today's wave of feminism.
MGDC in rehearsal with artistic director Janet Eilber.
How do you decide which choreographers would be a good fit for the company?
There are a number of things that go into it but one is the theme of our season. We launched Sacred/Profane last year at The Joyce Theater and it continues this year at New York City Center. We commissioned Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui because he's known to do spiritual works, which he did in creating Mosaic. Where as Lucinda's work goes more under profane. Her signature is to take everyday movement and manipulate it into choreography which she does brilliantly. Lar's work is a mixture of both. He came to us and asked if we would be part of his 50th anniversary and we were honored.
When it comes to reworking pieces from so long ago, how do you stay true to Martha's voice?
With Martha's work it's easy because she was a leader in the modernist movement. Her work is really stripped down to the elemental—to what will evoke a reaction from the audience. Even though Embattled Garden was choreographed in 1958, the elements are so strikingly modern, I think they still have a powerful impact.
We also have to incorporate the facility of the new dancers which was also something Martha was always aware of. The mission is to do what she did; to maintain the very direct emotional impact and the message that she intended, rather than let it get diffused by things that get added. We keep it clean so that it speaks the way she intended.
Embattled Garden was originally created on the cusp of the sexual revolution. What do you think Martha would have to say about today's wave of feminism?
I think she was always instrumental in empowering women. She claims she never felt any inhibitions placed on her nor felt contained by male power. She was always someone who said what she wanted to say and she was all about personal empowerment—which she expressed through her art.
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.
You ever just wish that Kenneth MacMillan's iconic production of Romeo and Juliet could have a beautiful love child with the 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey? (No, not Baz Luhrmann's version. We are purists here.)
Wish granted: Today, the trailer for a new film called Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words was released, featuring MacMillan's choreography and with what looks like all the cinematic glamour we could ever dream of: