Villa Adriana, Tivoli, 25 June 2014, h 21.00
Martha Graham was always interested in dance and ritual and, in a way, her approach to dance can be summarized by this evocative term, ‘ritual’. Her teacher, dancer and choreographer Ruth St. Denis, had developed an elegant style reminiscent of the Orient, transforming dance into something profound and meaningful. In addition to that, at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s, Graham encountered the concept of ‘dance as ritual’ in two fundamental experiences: as a The Chosen One in Massine’s 1930s Rite of Spring and as observer of the pueblo cultures in the Southwest of the United States. The former was an intense and, at times, troubled situation as she often quarreled with Massine and struggled to adapt to a balletic aesthetic. The second was particularly inspiring and brought her to witness the pueblo’s contact with the land through dance, an aspect that left an enduring mark in her life. The evening at the ancient Roman Villa Adriana in Tivoli presented this vital ritualistic element within Graham’s work in a breathtaking environment. Part of the Festival Internazionale di Villa Adriana, the event was organised in collaboration with Daniele Cipriani Entertainment. Pity that Tivoli itself is not very trourist-friendly, especially if you do not have a car.
Janet Eilber, the artistic director of the Company, gave a short introductory speech, with the aid of a translator. On the menu there were some of Graham’s best pieces, the lyrical Diversion of Angels (1948), the dramatic Errand, a reworking of Errand into the Maze (1947) by Luca Veggetti, Depak Ine (2014), that Nacho Duato specifically created for the Company and last but not least, The Rite of Spring, Graham’s 1984 potent version of Nijinsky’s 1913 masterpiece, set to Stravinsky’s revolutionary score.
I had not seen the Company perform since 2010 and the first thing I noticed was the change in the cast. Many new people have joined the Company, which looks fresher without losing its status. At the same time, the presence of fundamental figures such as Tadej Brdnik and Blakeley White-McGuire keeps it in a brilliant form. Diversion of Angels is the perfect start for an evening like this. As one of the few pieces where Graham did not create a strong female central protagonist, it is poetic, dynamic and cheerful, and centred on the three aspects of love, each danced by a woman dressed in a symbolic colour: yellow for adolescent love, red for erotic love and white for mature love.
Each woman has a partner and they are often surrounded by a
group of other couples. Eilber has talked about a “world without gravity” and
“geometric patterns” with regards to this piece and it is true: the grounded,
floor-based Graham technique acquires a lighter flavor in the vibrant
interchange of patterns drawn by the dancers. Natasha Diamond-Walker is a
refined Woman in White and Abdiel Jacobsen dances beautifully with her, Mariya
Dashkina Maddux is particularly apt in her role as the Woman in Red, a role of
precision and fluidity. As she enters the stage, she slips on a humid stage (it
is a bit chill) but immediately gets up, thus recalling one of Graham’s best
mottos, “My dancers fall so they may rise”. When she performs the
split fall it is as if she were seductively melting to the floor and then up again she goes in her flaming red dress.
|The Rite of Spring, photo Musacchio&Ianniello.|
In 2012 hurricane Sandy has done a lot of damage to the Company and has affected Errand into the Maze, ruining Isamu Noguchi’s sculptures. This has brought to the birth of Errand, a recreation of the piece by choreographer Luca Veggetti, with the aid of Graham principal dancer Miki Orihara. There are no sculptures and there are some changes in the choreography as well as the costumes and lights. It is perhaps the best piece in the programme. Samll and red-haired Blakeley White-McGuire is a stunning protagonist in search of her way to deal with her fears, which are embodied by a tattooed and sculpted Ben Schultz, the Creature of Fear. The piece is a reworking of the Theseus and Ariadne myth, where the former is absorbed by the latter to embark on an inner quest. Veggetti’s changes are subtle and significant: a light-coloured veil covers the male figure’s head, instead of Noguchi’s horns and a transparent chic stick replaces the one Noguchi had created. However, what is perhaps the most striking element, is that he never leaves the stage, walking his way along its perimeter when the heroine performs her solo pieces. And when he does walk, he takes away the stick from the back part of his neck where it is positioned to make his figure stiff and bidimentional. This adds a new mysterious tension to his role. White-McGuire’s marshalling through the piece, her hands on her womb at the beginning and her self-reliance growing as she fights against the Creature, is very deep and dramatic. This is a particularly ritualistic work, both in form and content.
|Depak Ine, photo Musacchio&Ianniello.|
As are the other two choreographic pieces, Depak Ine and The Rite of Spring. In creating Depak Ine, Nacho Duato was inspired by Darwin’s evolution theory, Eilber notes in the introduction, and that is why the dancers move highly grounded to the floor in a more relaxed and fluid way with respect to the Graham technique. They also resemble posthuman creatures, the result, perhaps, of human, animal and machine union (John Talbot's electronic music is the perfect touch, in this sense). Watching this layered piece after the Graham pieces creates a shift in perception about the dancers’ abilities and proficient technical potentiality. They are simply, amazing! They move in groups and in couples with PeiJu Chien-Pott lying onstage, face down, for quite a while. Once we convince ourselves that her role is to figure as the static and still contrapuntal point to the other dancers, she ‘wakes up’ and astonishes us with a flexibility I have seldom seen anywhere else: she throws her legs through space, bending, standing, and breaking the time-space continuum…in my mind she is a new and vigorous embodiment of the Chosen One, the sacrificial victim of The Rite of Spring, which closes the evening.
This last choreography has the flavor of the above-mentioned Southwest pueblo cultures as a Shaman, confidently interpreted by Ben Schultz, guides the sacrifice required for a propitious spring. Men and women dance in separate groups, the stage is not very big and the masterfully Graham organized structure of this work suffers a bit because of that, even though it acquires an intimate touch it did not have. When the Shaman chooses his victim, it is a striking moment of despair and revelation: she is on her partner's shoulders and is almost abruptly taken away from him. Xiaochuan Xie dances a belligerent Chosen One, even when she is overtaken by the Shaman’s controlling power. I reckon she will get even better with time and the experience needed for this role.
The stage is now empty, people start moving away, a nice walk awaits us to get out of Villa Adriana, the best closure for this vital ritual.