Friday, October 19, 2012

Legends, then and now: Graham and Bausch

What becomes a legend most...when she's gone?

For Janet Eilber, artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, what becomes her legendary mentor now is a mix of classic repertory works and new commissions designed to take a fresh approach to Graham themes. In seasons past, these themes have explored "Political Dance" and psychological "Inner Landscapes." For its 2013 program at The Joyce Theater (February 20-March 3), the company will offer "Myth & Transformation." This collection will include Phaedra--unseen for a decade--and other Graham works inspired by Greek myths and legends plus the New York premiere of Doug Varone's Lamentation Variation and a restaging of Richard Move's The Show (Achilles Heels), originally created for Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project. In addition, along with a new piece by Nacho Duato, the troupe will bring Graham's Rite of Spring to Carolina Performing Arts (Chapel Hill, NC) as part of a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the premiere of the Stravinsky piece.
From the original cast of The Show (Achilles Heels). Rasta Thomas (l) and Miguel Anaya (r)
photo by ©JulietaCervante

Yesterday afternoon, the troupe previewed samples from "Myth & Transformation" in its new home--the former, and legendary, Merce Cunningham studio at Westbeth. Varone's quartet for men--part of the company's commission of interpretations of Graham's iconic solo, Lamentation--evokes a sense of the early HIV/AIDS crisis, of dynamic interconnections, interdependence, loss, readjustment and healing within a community at a time when change is the only constant. The Show (Achilles Heels), with its snappy, game-show setting and androgynously-sexy protagonist (played now by Lloyd Mayor, a breakout talent hailing from the Isle of Man), will give freer play to its young dancers' expressive capabilities and seems pitched to draw younger audiences.

[And look what I found! Here's Lloyd Mayor in a video interview, a year or so ago, talking about life at the Rambert School and mentioning his dream of getting into the Graham company.]

BAM drew a decidedly mature, largely upscale crowd of fans of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch for last night's sold-out US premiere of Bausch's final work of surrealist absurdity and romance. "...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si..." unfolds across a stage floor glowing with cool, white light like a  lightbox or a polar ice sheet, which makes its imagery (and designer Marion Cito's elegant, sensuous gowns) absolutely pop.

With one intermission, the evening runs a giddy 2 hours and 40 minutes--a pretty steep commitment--but the Bausch ensemble rewards attention with alternately gorgeous, tender, clever and amusing scenarios and performances. The begowned women--and Bausch's movement for them as individuals--have always impressed me more than the guys darting around them in their serviceable black shirts and slacks; the luminous female standouts here in "...como el musguito" include Morena Nascimento and Ditta Miranda Jasjfi. But Fernando Suels Mendoza has a wonderful bit as a flirtatious fellow effusively greeting the ladies as they approach and pass. Once you watch him perform this segment, you continue to follow and welcome everything he does.

Mind the cracks, though--those "Antarctic ice" cracks opening up in that glowing white floor. Beneath all of that color and movement and beauty and fun and abandon lie completely ignored hints of disaster in the making.

The company premiered this work just a few weeks before Bausch's cancer diagnosis and shocking, sudden death. With 20/20 hindsight, it appears prescient, a farewell and a gift of mad, extravagant love to her dancers and her audience.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch continues at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House tonight and October 20, 23, 24, 26, 27 at 7:30pm and October 21 at 3pm. Tickets are sold out but, for information, click here.

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