It was a joy to convene for dinner with other Graham II and Martha Graham Dance Company alums at Malaparte on Bethune Street before heading over to see the Graham II season at Westbeth. The evening began with excerpts from Martha Graham’s “Night Chant”, which I had never seen before. I was struck by the beauty of the choral passages in this piece, especially the women’s entrance in which they hung in a deep contraction and spiraled around in a back attitude turn. Countless group entrances and phrases demonstrated the earth-bound, taut, and bodily extremes Martha Graham works with. Especially riveting was the final section in which sections seemed to overlap and converse with each other until finally a group of men crossed the stage with women lifted over their heads in a beautiful upside-down V shape that called to mind a flock of birds. All of this swirled around the beautiful Jaclyn Rea, who had a slightly different quality of movement than the chorus. I found “Night Chant” to be an imaginative work steeped in ritual, imagination, mystery, and calling on Graham’s rich history and love of Native American culture.
Darshan Singh Bhuller staged an edited version of his “The Virgin Queen” on Graham II and it was refreshing to see the dancers in this piece. I particularly liked Mr. Bhuller’s use of court music. The use of projections added to the dance quite strongly in some sections, but it also obscured the faces of the dancers often, which was a bit problematic for me as this piece is a work of dance theatre and calls for storytelling and use of drama. Seeing faces would have added much to the dance. Mr. Bhuller’s use of groups quickly surging into place was effective, as was a particular moment in which projections of frames began to whirl around as a group of dancers lifted the queen above their heads and spun her around. I would like to see this piece in it’s entirety.
Robert Cohan’s “Forest” was beautifully staged by Mr. Bhuller to feature Charlotte Landreau and Gildas Lemmonier in a marvelously quiet, expressive, and intimate duet. Staged to the soundscape of wind, rain, and thunder, the piece took place in it’s own world, where time became inconsequential. The dancers were fully revealed here and demonstrated unwavering technique as well as theatrical magnetism. I was particularly impressed by the stealthy and plastic manner in which their feet left and returned to the floor. They were grounded, yet graceful and elegant in their use of gravity and shift of weight. Mr. Lemmonier was especially adept and developed an almost serpentine quality toward the middle of the work. I could have watched them all night.
The evening closed with Martha Graham’s “Temptations of the Moon” and when the lights came up I was immediately enamored of the beautiful pastel color palette employed by Halston. The women’s dresses, with a type of connected fishtail, were absolutely theatrical and beautiful as they moved through space. The men were handsome, bare chested in tights with borders at the waist and calf. I found “Temptations of the Moon” very interesting in it’s use of Bela Bartok’s 1923 Suite for Dance. It’s curious to me that in many of Martha’s later works, she chose previously composed music to work with (such as Nielsen, Stravinsky, Bartok, Joplin, etc.) when in the beginning of her career she was instrumental in developing the idea that the music and dance be created together, and that sometimes the music should really serve the creation of the dance. But that’s another conversation. I particularly enjoyed the men’s chorus and seeing Graham phrases that I hadn’t thought about for a long time. The tone of this piece is quite sophisticated, and the dancers did an admirable job of pulling of this rarely seen work. I hope it remains in the Graham II repetoire for a while so we can so it again, and also for the dancers to continue to develop the wonderful qualities they began to work with here.
Virginie Mecene and the faculty at the Martha Graham School continue to cultivate new interpreters of this wondrous repertory.