Star-studded Graham Gala Includes Deborah Harry

February 14, 2013

Pop star Deborah Harry is just one of the ways that the Martha Graham Dance Company is retuning, reframing, and re-adapting to our time. 

Since 2005 when Janet Eilber was appointed artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, she’s used her imagination and savvy to give fresh perspectives on Graham’s famously drama-drenched style. They haven’t all been wildly successful, but she’s made us curious again about the Graham company.


One of the most intriguing of Eilber’s efforts has been the Lamentation Variation series, wherein a living choreographer takes inspiration from Graham’s iconic 1930 solo to make a new 10-minute dance. I don’t have to tell you that what Aszure Barton made, what Larry Keigwin made, and what Yvonne Rainer made, were all completely different from each other. 


The latest one, by Doug Varone, was unveiled at Vail last summer, and it’s a beauty. The melancholy of four men spills in spools that unravel around a single chair. It will be on Program C of the three-program season that comes to the Joyce Feb. 20 to March 3.


Another great move of Eilber’s is her embrace of choreographer and nightclub star Richard Move. At first shunned by the company because of his hilarious channelings of Graham, he’s been brought into the fold in various ways. For this season’s Program A, he has restaged his The Show (Achilles’ Heels), which was created for Baryshnikov and his White Oak Dance Project in 2002. (To see Richard Move talk about his take on Greek mythology, view our “Choreography in Focus.”)


And this is where Deborah Harry comes in: She’ll be singing live for Move’s Achilles at the gala on Thursday, February 21. 


Another fascinating choice was to commission Nacho Duato to make a work. On one hand, it’s surprising because Duato is now the director of a classical ballet company in St. Petersburg. (See my recent interview with him here.) On the other, his earthy and emotional style is right up the Graham alley. At a recent rehearsal of his all-male work in progress, I saw—or maybe witness is a better word—hard hitting, inventive, and wrenching scenes that hint at slavery or torture. An excerpt will be shown at the benefit to raise money to cover damages from Hurricane Sandy on Feb. 26.


From the wicked irony of Richard Move to the deadly hurling of Nacho Duato—that’s quite a dramatic span. It’s all masterminded by Janet Eilber, the great Graham interpreter of the past who’s boldly asking us to look at Graham in the present from new angles—and to use the Graham idiom to look at today’s world.