Martha Graham Dance Company

'Appalachian Spring,' 'Satyric Festival Song,' 'Lamentation,' 'Errand into the Maze,' 'Maple Leaf Rag'

by Cassandra

November 2003 -- Sadler's Wells, London


The Martha Graham Dance Company has had to survive a conflict as traumatic as anything the great lady of modern dance ever choreographed in one of her ballets, and after what seemed an eternity of legal wrangling that ended only last year, the company is now able to perform her works in the manner it deems fit.

The first work in the second programme shown this week at Sadler's Wells was “Appalachian Spring”, perhaps the Graham work I am most familiar with.   This depiction of the American past is blessed with such an instantly recognizable score by Aaron Copeland that its classic status has long been assured. It was excellently danced by its cast of eight, dominated by the presence of Katherine Crockett as The Pioneering Woman, gazing into the distance with a dignified serenity, aperfect foil to that uptight looking Revivalist, whose religiosity seems to mask a troubled nature as he postures self-consciously before his nubile female Followers.

The middle section of the programme was made up of what were basically four female solos, the two most notable being “Satyric Festival Song” and “Lamentation”.  The first was a light-hearted piece danced in fun manne by Blakeley White-McGuire to the gurgling of a solo flute.  The second was an outpouring of almost regal grief. Although I never saw her dance it, whenever I see “Lamentation” I always recall images of Martha Graham in this role. The photographs that exist of her explicitly convey the sense of tragedy she must have brought to this short piece.

“Errand into the Maze” comes very close to parody from my point of view, a feeling endorsed by some audible giggles from the audience when Christophe Jeannot as the Minotaur made his entrance sporting a pair of bull’s horns on top of his head. If “Lamentation” conjured up old pictures of Martha Graham, then I’m afraid this work conjured up memories of her wicked impersonator, Richard Move. Somehow it just didn’t work.

The final work of the evening, “Maple Leaf Rag” was an absolute delight. Graham’s final and least characteristic work, it was danced to the familiar music of Scott Joplin, who, I seem to remember, inspired another great choreographer to move away from habitual gloom to explore dance’s sunnier pastures. The entire company was on stage for this cheerful piece inhabited by merry lovers and angst ridden females who emoted outrageously in glamorous costumes by Calvin Klein no less. Clearly Graham was capable of sending herself up rotten, and although one always thinks of her creations as exercises into delving the depths of the human soul, its nice to think that she wound up that illustrious career by giving us all a good laugh.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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