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    Blakeley White-McGuire and PeiJu Chien-Pott in <i>Chronicle</i> in Martha Graham Company 2016
    Photo by Brigid Pierce
    Blakeley White-McGuire and PeiJu Chien-Pott in Chronicle

    The Fight Continues

    Martha Graham Company Makes its Case for Relevance at City Center


    It's good to be reminded that Martha Graham is a primary source, almost a primary color, of Modern Dance. The oldest piece the Martha Graham Company danced at City Center felt timeless and new, and the newest felt dated, in this 90th-Year celebration.

    Choreography by: Martha Graham, Nacho Duato, Marie Chouinard.
    Dancers: PeiJu Chien-Pott, Lloyd Knight, Ben Schultz, Blakeley White-McGuire, Abdiel Jackson, Ari Mayzick, Xin Ying, Charlotte Landreau, Lloyd Mayor, Lauren Newman, Anne O'Donnell, Lorenzo Pagano, Konstantina Xintara, Laurel Dalley Smith, Anne Souder, Leslie Andrea Williams, Guyonn Auriau.
    Music by: The Mannes Orchestra, conducted by David Hayes, Arvo Pärt, Louis Dufort.
    Set design by: Isamu Noguchi.
    Costumes by: Martha Graham, Nacho Duato, Barbara Erin Delo.
    Lighting design by: Brad Fields, David Finley, Beverly Emmons, Nick Hung.
    Artistic Director: Janet Eilber.
    Executive Director: LaRue Allen.
    City Center
    April 14-16, 2016

    In Cave of the Heart (1946), the 2016 Medea (PeiJu Chien-Pott) has much of the severe beauty and smoldering power Graham herself seems to have had, the ex-lover is statuesque and grand, and the maiden bride is fresh and nubile. All the pieces are in place — strong cast, strong performance, Noguchi set — but some subtle chemical imbalance or a few degrees too little heat prevent this version from throwing sparks and catching fire. A once-removed feel keeps niggling at the edges, leaving a powerful spell one cup short of magic.

    Keeping a 90-year-old company fresh and vital is challenging, no doubt. With no new material possible from the source, guest choreographers can bring in new energy, as Nacho Duato does, with Rust. It is a gorgeous piece from start to finish, showcasing five men of the company. And it has the power and feel of a Graham creation. If anything, it is too beautiful for its ugly topic, torture. Strong dancers elevate the fluid but explosive choreography, and beautiful lighting by Brad Fields and music by Arvo Pärt add an extra cup of magic.

    Ari Mayzick and men in <i>Rust</i> in Martha Graham Company 2016  
    Photo by Brigid Pierce  
    Ari Mayzick and men in Rust
    Baffling, though, is the newest piece for the company, Inner Resources. Eight women wrangle dirty mopwater versions of Gaga and late '80s vogueing, hampered by odd-not-good costume, lighting and music choices. The initial impression is that we're watching a parody of a high school dance team, but the humor never comes. It's a stunning choreographic miss by Marie Chouinard, especially in the context of an evening with three other solid pieces.

    Chronicle (1936) ends the evening on one gloriously extended high note. The dancers seem impossibly crisp and athletic, and the choreography burns hot and clean. This is visceral and graphic Graham at its best. The jumps, arm shapes and body positions — familiar from historical film — burst with firework intensity onstage. This single piece, and the flawless technique and vitality of its current dancers, are argument enough to give the Martha Graham Dance Company more decades of life.

    APRIL 20, 2016

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