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Martha Graham Dance Company

'Satyric Festival Song'

by Rosella Simonari

November 18 & 19, 2003 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Image: Miki Orihara in "Satyric Festival Song"
Photo by John Deane

 

up and down she
moves her torso
hair flowing like whips
…and downunder
a spiralling smile
produces a giggle

Stripes, stripes of different colours, black, pea green, lemon yellow, sripes all over the dancer's body, be her the blond Erica Dankmeyer or the dark Blakeley White McGuire. The costume, an elastic tube of stripy textures sewed together, pieces of the self, pieces of movements intertwined with the woman's body, be her the blond or the dark one. Shoulders left exposed to the hair's whipping and beating. The dancer's hair is as part of the piece as the costume and the movements. This is Graham; it is never only an isolated thing we are asked to focus upon, but rather a seires of aspects that together make her sense of dance.

And maybe arrogantly, maybe
satirically, this brief solo opens with a dancer showing her back in jumping stripes, one leg vertical to the ground and the other pointing diagonally and stretching the stripy dress. Why is she turning her back to us, the audience? Her loose hair floats in effective waves; it embodies the only curves in this up-and-down movement of lines: horizontal in the dress, vertical and diagonal via her arms (pointing upwards) and legs.

What would have happened if her hair had been curly instead of straight? Relatively short instead of profusely long? Can we think of Graham with other body figures? It could be a proficuous territory to explore her sense of dynamics -- it could be. But let us return to our satyric figure. When she finally turns her face towards us, the audience, a wierd relationship is established. Her focus was away from us, the energy emanating from her body still well preserved within the theatre box, where the stage is, where movement happens at a safe distance for us to appreciate it.

She repetitively looks at us, straight in our direction, breaking the fiction of her performance, alluding to it as it 'really' is: a fiction! The sacred wall between performance and watchers of the performance is altered; she goes beyond it and that is where the satire springs. That is what metadance is about. "Look at me! Pay attention to my next move/ment!" she seems to say. And here we go; she bends her torso forward and frames her face with her cupped hands, playing games? Playing faces? A partly displaced, parltly amused audience is called to take part to the dance; our reaction is to smile, to giggle, well some of us remain quietly silent, some other ask themselves "is this supposed to be fun?"

Here we go again; she walks, she runs, stops, bends her torso on one side looks at us, looks at her right foot and the right foot answers back curling its toes. Laughs burst among most of us, the now totally involved audience. Yes she is playing with us! The flute highlights the moving lines of the dress-movements-hair. Dankmeyer is totally gripping in this sublte game of give-and-take.  Perhaps it is the colour of her hair, a stricking blond, which allows us to detach her dance from that of Graham and let it have a force of its own. Perhaps it is her effervescent approach to the piece to make it function so well. McGuire, on the other hand, has a quickness lacking in her colleague.  The way she passes from one section to the other seems more effective and lucidly played, though she spoils the toe curling phrase a bit.

"Satyric Festival Song" is a small masterpiece, a jewel created by Graham in 1932. It is a bi-dimensional piece that goes far beyong its time. The disruptive mode of what I like calling metadance belongs more to a postmodern approach than to a modernist one. But Graham has always been a problem in terms of definitions and classifications.  Is she a symbolist? Is she a modernist? Is she a feminist? Again the answer is open for each of us to decide and choose the option that most fits our understanding of her creative universe. In this solo she constantly keeps us aware that the dancer is performing a dance; that it is a performance. It is similar to what happens with Singing in the Rain, a musical on the making of musicals. Or Orlando by Sally Potter, in which the protagonist often looks straight at the camera, breaking the illusion of the story, going beyond its structure of characters and events. In the same way our satyrical figure plays with us at the game of dancing, moving her bottom in front of our faces, simulating a fall for a presumed lack of balance and so on and so forth. To have it performed in both programmes at the Sadler's Wells performances is yet a further chance to unveil its multiple layers of messages, lines, stripes, smiles….

Edited by Holly Messitt

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