REVIEW: The Martha Graham Dance Company showcased their revolutionary technique and style

A nearly sold out Asolo Repertory Theatre in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts right at the coast of Sarasota waited for a matinee performance of Martha Graham Dance Company hosted by The Sarasota Ballet.

It was a rare occasion for the state of Florida, and in fact, by popular demand, Sarasota Ballet opened a very last Monday evening (18th of February) performance for the oldest American dance company.

Artistic Director Janet Eilber welcomed the afternoon, proudly stating that the company is the oldest in the country, celebrating their 96th year in the performing arts world.

Lloyd Mayor and Charlotte Landreau in Martha Graham’s Diversion of Angels – Photo by Brigid Pierce

The performance opened with Graham’sDiversion of Angels. With radiant and unique colour costumes, the three women in white, red, and yellow presented their character’s signature movements at all times, were spiritual, erotic and playful, respectively. The men surrounded the women in perfectly coordinated movements, all of which highlighted Graham’s revolutionary technique and style.

Natasha Diamond-Walker opened the piece with Ben Schultz, in white. Her movements were smooth and delicate. On the other hand, Charlotte Landreau in yellow showed her jumping agility and magnificent stamina as she was partnered with Lloyd Mayor. So Young An received grateful applause from the audience as the woman in red, as her tilt balances and high artistry. Her partner, Lloyd Knight, also demonstrated high artistic maturity.

Graham’s 6-minute solo piece Ekstasis came next on the program. Earlier, when Artistic Director Eilber described the piece, she stated that Graham discovered a connection with the hip and the shoulder that created unique torso movements.

Anne Souder in Martha Graham’s Ekstasis – Hibbard Nash Photography

Following Graham’s inspiration quote for the solo, “The body is a sacred garment,” Anne Souder interpreted the movement exquisitely, as the audience could observe the separation of the ribs with each beat of the exotic music by Lehman Engel. Even with a restrictive costume, Ms Souder defined every movement, just as if every part of her body got separated right by her joints and extremities. With the solo lighting, the audience stayed silent and focused on her performance.

Lloyd Knight, Lloyd Mayor, XiaoChuan Xie, and Abdiel Jacobsen (Not the cast on 17/02 program) in Bulareyaung Pagarlava’s Lamentation Variation – Photo by Melanie Futorian

“Lamentation Variations” are three appealing, distinctive, and 21stcentury short pieces premiered in 2007 for the commemorate the anniversary of the World Trade Center’s Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001. Three choreographers were asked to create these dramatic and unique pieces inspired by Graham’s solo “Lamentation”: Bulareyaung Pagarlava, Nicolas Paul, and Larry Keigwin.

After showing a clip of Martha Graham’s “Lamentation” to an audience in respectful silence, the curtain opened showing So Young An, Jacob Larsen, Lorenzo Pagano and Ben Schultz in nude costumes executing the Pagarlava Variation. Their movement was soft and precise, and the men showed excellent manoeuvring and partnering with Ms So Young An. As they disappeared in the dark, the audience stayed silent, respecting every moment of the piece.

For the Paul Variation, Marzia Memoli, Anne Souder and Leslie Andrea Williams dressed in executive, grey costumes stood behind a horizontal light panel, and the piece engaged the dancers in and out of the panel. Their movement was sharp and dramatic, intensely demonstrating high maturity in all movements. Again, the audience stayed quiet after their execution, moved by their intensity.

The full company ended the first part of the event introducing the melancholic Keigwin Variation. With both women and men wearing elegant dresses, shirts and pants, the diverse ensemble of the company interacted with the audience: they shook their hands, moved their heads, and changed spots while strongly starring at the audience, moving with Chopin’s elegant yet melancholic piano score. The audience gave the company a standing ovation, feeling grateful for their delightful artistry.

Martha Graham Dancers in Larry Keigwin’s Lamentation Variation – Photo by Brigid Pierce

Gian Carlo Menotti’s score was heard after the intermission, and showing the designs by Isamu Noguchi on the stage, Charlotte Landreau stood to perform Graham’s “Errand to the Maze”, inspired by the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Ms Landreau connected her movements to the music, and intensely showed the strong woman’s character in the piece. Mr Lloyd Mayor, interpreting the minotaur, showed his strong partnering and jumping skills, even when he had a stick behind his neck, which did not provide any arm work. Both of their interaction with space and each other were professional and well developed.

The afternoon closed with “Woodland”, a piece by Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg. The costumes, all in Scandinavian design and colours (white, beige and navy blue for the principal dancer) were attractive to the eyes of the audience and worked well with the dancer’s movements.

Lidberg essentially created a piece that is comical, but at the same time interesting, as he uses imagery and linear formations that ensured the piece was never boring to the eye. Ms Xin Ying performed exquisite movements while maintaining her mature character, and her navy costume was highlighted in between the lighter colours. The ensemble of dancers that helped create the formations was continuously coordinated, and the male dancers made a strong presence in the piece moving along with their women partners.

Martha Graham Dance Company in Pontus Lidberg’s Woodland – Photo by Brigid Pierce

The small Asolo Repertory Theatre roared as the audience stood for yet another long round of applause for the company. The Martha Graham Dance Company certainly maintains their founder’s spirit in her choreographic masterpieces, as well as keeping the development of movement through pieces created in the 21stcentury. The city of Sarasota had an unquestionable guest to watch that weekend.