Tag Archives: Martha Graham

We Fall Down – We Get Up – May 17th and 18th

RGDance_WeFallDown

RG Dance Projects presents We Fall Down, We Get Up featuring three pieces from choreographer and Artistic Director Rubén Graciani on May 17, 2013 at 8pm and May 18, 2013 at 3pm and 8pm at the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance’s Studio Theater at Westbeth, 55 Bethune Street, 11th Floor, NYC.  Tickets are $20 ($15 for students, seniors, and artists) and can be purchased here: buy-tickets-now

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The evening will include two works from the repertory – Swing and a Miss set to music by Richard Danielpour and Rapture, a multi-media duet to the music of Debussy. The program culminates with the new work, We Fall Down, We Get Up – a larger work with 5 dancers, 24 singers from the Broadway Community Chorus, and a “living” set by Philip Treviño.

We Fall DownWe Fall Down, We Get Up is an extension of a work begun at Skidmore College about the boundaries of identity. The new work is an exploration of one’s boundaries; both those we create for ourselves and those we inherit. The work questions how much control we have over the “performance” of our identity if some of those identifying markers are more or less inherited and permanent. The singers will be part of a “living” set to which they are tethered, demarking the stage space with tangible boundaries for the dancers to either work through or be constrained by. The singers are not only performing with the dancers, but also creating and changing the dynamics of the performance space as a living, breathing set piece.

Rubén GracianiRubén Graciani has performed with the Mark Morris Dance Group (1994-1999), been a company member of the Kevin Wynn Collection, Company Stefanie Batten Bland, and the Joe Goode Performance Group, and has been a Guest Artist with the City Dance Ensemble and the Brian Brooks Moving Company, among many others. He holds a BFA from SUNY Purchase, and an MFA from University of Maryland-College Park. His work in dance film was profiled in the November 2012 issue of Dance Magazine. He is currently an Associate Professor at Skidmore College, and a Dance Panelist for the New York Council on the Arts.

RG Dance Projects was loosely formed in 2009, and was formalized with debut performances in the DanceNow Raw Materials show in April of 2012. The company performed at the International Woodwind Festival in July of 2012 – cementing our commitment to collaborating with other artists on performance projects. The company performed in the DanceNow Joe’s Pub Festival in September of 2012, winning the Audience Favorite Award for our evening. In February 2013, the company debuted at the CoolNY Festival, and in March, the Current Sessions Festival premiered a dance film project. The company had a residency at DanceNow SILO in Pennsylvania as a result of our Joe’s Pub performance. RG Dance Projects is ecstatic to be able to begin work on a spring season with such a prestigious award. They have also been invited to perform their season at Saratoga ArtsFest in June of 2013.

For more information, please visit www.RubenGraciani.com.

Dance Finds You, You Don’t Find Dance–Martha Graham Graham 101

May 11, 2012 marks Martha Graham’s 118th birthday anniversary.
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This year as a gift for Martha, I asked for something special.  Since the mid 1910s, when she began her studies at the newly created Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, Martha Graham has been influencing dance on an iconic scale and far greater on a personal level with dancers and non-dancers around the world.
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Such has been the case with our very own, Model Critic Carlos Stafford, who I begged to finally talk about how he came to know and love and thrive in a modern art form to triumph over a life changing set back as a traditional athlete with a sports career glistening in the future.
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~ getting personal with Martha Graham, Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
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At 9 AM Monday, I walked tentatively into the church on Cal Berkeley’s campus. It was now a bare converted dance space with a large beautiful oak floor and high windows, light streaming in.  First thing I see is RT, a former baseball pitcher on Cal’s great team, in a black leotard and tights. Wow!  Really!  What is he doing here?  He looks over. I was shocked.  Class was in session and I watched.
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As I looked around, I was bombarded with the dancers moving across the floor in athletic unison–moves that were totally foreign to me.  It looked difficult and strange but lyrical and challenging.  There were beautiful girls, finely toned bodies, and strong men.  The teacher was demanding and energetic, getting the best from the dancers, like coaches I had all through my previous 15 years of organized baseball and football. I was drawn in.  If RT is doing it, it must be OK.  But is this me?
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Backing up a couple years earlier, I was sitting pretty, everything going like magic, my college team winning, late in the game.  I was the starting fullback, felt strong, and was having a good game–the position was mine on a deep roster of players.  Forty seconds left, then pow, and awkward hit from the side.  Surprise, blown knee; that, along with bad trainers, poor advice, no safety net, see ya!  That ended it all.  Alone.
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I needed something physical, hard and non-contact.  Lieing around stoned in our communal house years later, Marjorie, one of my more aware friends from NYC, suggested dance.  It was a leap of faith.  It was the Martha Graham Technique–everyone knew but me.  The program was run by Marni and David Wood, dancers from the actual company back East, which of course was the Mecca of dance I kept hearing.  Their mission seemed to be to bring this technique, in all authenticity and dedication, to the great unwashed West.
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The Woods were adamant and disciplined as they imparted their ethic to the program.  They reminded me of Coach Kovacs, a former Marine, barking out commands, no hand holding. “If you don’t think dance is about bringing your complete energy to class, then leave right now,” Marni would yell.  Silence. We all got the message. Dance was serious business.
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Martha Graham once said, as I remember, that dancers were like race horses, dance them or they’ll sit around eating all day.  That said a lot, and squared up with me–it was the kicking of reluctant nerves, and as the stories revealed, Martha did a lot of kicking.  So did her proteges.
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I was drawn in, had no choice really.  Dance chose me.  Although a little old to be starting dance, I never cared. You started too late, you’ll have a hard time getting into a company, I’d hear.  I didn’t care, it was all white noise, irrelevant.  In those days, in my bailiwick, you weren’t searching for a career, but for something else.  Dance was part of a quest, self authenticity.
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As a football player you are trained in a certain way, and it carried over. At first pass, if didn’t get a dance combination I would smack the wall.  No, not that kind of expression, this is a different emotion, slightly more subtle, please!  Had to refocus, or be embarrassed by that one, strange dignified girl who was perfect every time; the one who studied The Royal Syllabus since age nine, and had weirdly perfect feet, scary placement, and fluid.  Or Allison, who was perfect, and didn’t even realize it; however, the teachers knew better and had a keen eye on her.
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The Graham Technique loomed larger and larger.  I learned about the impact she had on dance, how she was regarded as one of the most influential artist of the twentieth century, up there with Picasso, Stravinsky, Balanchine, and Frank Lloyd Wright  I became familiar with bits and pieces of her masterpieces, and began to realize her prolific choreographic output (Acrobats of Gods, Clytemnestra, Seraphic Dialogue, Errand into the Maze, Appalachian Spring, to name a few), stories of her struggles, past dancers, and those she inspired.  When we entered the studio after a time, we entered reverently and with respect. The dancers knew that precision and attention to detail were paramount, and that the contractions and releases were to be performed correctly, hands, torso, diaphragm, shoulders, head all expressing the movement. Eventually, the style and intent naturally worked its way into our psyches and bodies, and it became more and more relevant. Our bodies changed, our attitudes changed, we were getting connected to a new way of standing, feeling, moving and breathing. That was class!
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Never did get into a company.  They were right. Never aspired to it, it mattered little.  But studying Graham pushed me into all kinds of dance, ballet leading the way.  Later on, Jazz too.  Yes, crazy and backward, but really perfect–it was really all about the movement, and a whole world opened up.  At the end, in Cal’s student production, my friends from our commune showed up, Carl, Ron, Marjorie, Denise and Cheryl, and I received a boisterous Bravo.  That was like scoring a touchdown. Thanks Martha, like many others, I have some special memories.

The Model Critic Reviews The Sokolow Theater Dance Ensemble

Cunningham Studio, New York, New York
 Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
 
Anna Sokolow (1910-2000), iconic modern dance choreographer, whose career vigorously spanned the entire 20th Century; an artist in whose life and times  collaborated with many of the great dancers and choreographers of her era; an artist with deep roots in Israel, Mexico, and the New York dance scene, was honored with a performance of a few of her representative pieces, Nov 14th, at the Cunningham Studio.

Photo Credit: Meems

 
Before “Odes,” the most important offering of the evening, a short film presented Sokolow working with dancers at Ohio State University, and these asides are loosely recalled:
 
Words lie, movement never lies.
Steps are important, but what really matters is the mood and the drama created.
I don’t want to be popular.  I don’t want to please everybody.  I want to tell the truth.
 
Sokolow, above all, wanted her dancers to be committed, to be connected to belief, to seek the most beautiful way of expression.  She also stressed clarity of movement, and definite, strong gestures.
 
“Odes”–Accompanied by flutist Roberta Michel, and music by Edgard Varese, twenty-three dancers created an intense, highly dramatic mood of terror and dehumanization.  With mechanical blips and bleeps in the soundscape, conveying the interior horrors of a concentration camp, the dancer’s frenzied movements of fear and impending doom created a frightening mood.  The dancer’s total commitment to living the choreography with honesty, belief, and energy made this piece entirely engrossing.
 
But if you were to deconstruct the choreography from “Odes” and “Two Preludes” which topped the evening’s presentation, the dominant theme would be pain and suffering, nothing light, nothing edifying;  misery, we would find, is the human condition, the overriding motif of these dances.  That Sokolow defined this theme well cannot be denied here; in this sense she accomplished her ends.  In “Two Preludes,” an intimate solo, danced beautifully by long-limbed Melissa Birnbaum, we have a dance created twenty years after “Odes,” but with the same mood, although not as deadly intense:  remorse, loss, internal suffering, contractions to the floor, implosions of energy, fetal postures, head cupping, unsteady footing–everything pointing to imprisonment on being.  The same applied to the personal work of artistic director Jim May, in his solo “Passage” and “At the Still Point of the Turning World” by Ernestine Stodelle–a very literal dance to a poem by T. S. Eliot; both encompassing the very same themes–No Exit.
 
As you view these dances, you are reminded that as culture evolves, language changes.  The same applies to dance vocabulary–the symbols and images become dated and loose their frisson.  For example, if you see a performance of a Broadway show like “A Chorus Line” today, it reads as refreshingly quaint, and a bit dusty; no modern viewer would believe, for all its merits, that it had won a Pulitzer Prize in its day.  It simply doesn’t speak to today. The same applies with these museum pieces by Anna Sokolow; once relevant, but difficult to watch now.
 
But most relevant to this performance, is the notion of depressing doom and gloom.  It begins to look like artistic self-indulgence or posing–to have one idea pounding out the nastiness of life, and nothing else. Of course few view the world quite like this, or else we’d all jump into the East River. Finally, we can look at this performance either as a bad choice of programming the pieces of this legendary choreographer, or perhaps as a real glimpse into Sokolow’s concerns as a choreographer.  In either case, it was difficult to watch, not solely because the dance movement did not transcend time, but because the ideas expressed were not balanced.
 

From Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.  And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.  The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions.  It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.  You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.  You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.  Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased…there is no satisfaction whatever at any time.  There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

 

Quote of the Day: Martha Graham

Martha Graham and Bertram Ross

No matter how bitter things become for me, personally economically, I would never allow myself to be destroyed from within.  I would sustain all kinds of disappointment without ceasing to believe, to hope, to love.  I would never yield to the temptation of pessimism, the ease of despair or withdrawal.

It was as if I took an inner vow

Martha Graham

NEVER TO ALLOW GRADUALLY THE TRAFFIC TO SMOTHER WITH NOISE AND FOG the flowing of the spirit.

Dance Review: Don Quixote at American Ballet Theatre

DON QUIXOTE
AMERICAN BALLET THEATER
By Carlos Stafford, the Model Reviewer
Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel headed up the sterling cast for ABT’s 2010 Spring/Summer productionof  Don Q, and the adventures  of the knight of the woeful countenance. What an unforgettable night it was. As Kitri and Basillio, the two sparkled throughout the evening’s performance I saw.  Murphy, a great talent, with incredible available technique, projected her character’s necessary strength, sharp footwork, and precision  Sometimes a cool persona, Murphy used the blazing choreography to her advantage, and smoldered.
Ethan Stiefel, as Basillio, has always been astonishing.  He has a rare facility of sharp power and speed, and combines it all with a confident ease. Add to that stage presence, humor, and incredible bravura dancing, and he becomes a pleasure to watch; he owns the stage.
This venerable version of Don Q has deep roots in the history of ballet, and comes to us from the Imperial Russian Ballet, first performed in 1869, to the choreography of Marius Petipa.  It is no doubt the same ballet, but one can imagine the changes that may have taken place throughout its’ evolution in Italy, France, Denmark, England and America. Nonetheless, the ballet has the unmistakable
stamp of other master works by Petipa and his era–Swan Lake, La Bayadere, and Giselle; lush music created especially for the ballet; dream sequences with large corps of female dancers appearing in gauzy white; lovers finally united in this life or in death. This was Grand Ballet! Here, the beautiful, energetic score by Ludwig Minkus is also original and was created for this story ballet.   It finally entered the repertory of American Ballet Theater in 1978.
As for the story of Don Quixote de La Mancha, we can say that it only loosely resembles the original novel by Cervantes, but is properly placed for the purposes of dance. The Don and his squire, Sancho Panza, make appearances as we see Kitri transformed into the Don’s vision of beauty, purity and true love that Dulcinea represents; windmilled monsters, emblematic of invading Muslims into Christian Spain, are attacked with his lance;  and of course Don Quixote’s dream.  But mainly the ballet is filled with the crackling dance of matadors, toreadors, lovers, and gypsies.
As Espada, the matador, David Hallberg is superb.  His princely carriage, articulate dancing, and incredible cat-like jumps were perfect.  Also appearing briefly, but remarkably, was Daniel Simkin.  A new arrival, and son of  former dancers from the Kirov, this young man is someone to watch.  In the brief solo he performs as a gypsy he also leaves the audience with his own indelible vision of a brilliant dancer in the making with his of uncanny leaps and crystalline pirouettes.
The lighting by Natasha Katz, especially in the gypsy camp and in the Dream Maiden scenes were very evocative.  I especially liked the costumes that blazed with rich earth tones of apricot, ochre, dusty greens and pinks on the women’s skirts, to the bright, clarifying blues worn by the proud toreadors, and the bold “suit of lights” in white for Espada, the matador.  Their costumes along with their dances con brio created an exciting affect. However, at times, because of the speed of the music, and the demands of the choreography, the toreadors were uneven.  Stella Abrera, as Mercedes, had some beautiful moments, especially her solo when she executed five difficult, and not often seen, Italian fouettes on pointe. The audience loved it.
But all was overshadowed by the Grand Pas de Deux at the final wedding scene of Kitri and Basillio.  All the energy of the evening exploded into fireworks as Murphy and Stiefel held nothing back and got the reward of a remarkable, flawless performance.  Their timing, musicality, and technical prowess was magic. In their pas de deux they were brilliant, in their solos both had an intensity and sense of abandonment in their jumps and footwork, while Murphy did the most balanced, and fastest pique turns I’ve ever seen.  The final feeling in the house was electrifying. I then remember what the great Martha Graham once said.  Even though she was from another dance discipline it was well worth remembering.  She said dancers were “acrobats of the gods.” It was certainly evident here.

Dancing with History

Saturday morning ballet class with my beloved teacher Joan Bayley.  As I worked through the barre, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am, to be in the same room with history.  I mean here I am taking instruction from a real diva.  Looking like 60 and closer to 80 my wonderful teacher is still demonstrating and instructing and imparting knowledge to us all.  It’s like taking class with a history book – a book of dance knowledge.  And when these ladies are gone, who will carry on their tradition?  Or so I often think.   For with every age some things are inevitably lost.  Steps, techniques, names of movements.  Dance is a living art and must therefore change and evolve whether to reflect the society in which it lives or create a new ideal within it.  But it seems also that because the old stuff is so hard to do, it’s not done anymore.  Or because certain aspects of the art are not exciting to the current audiences they are not performed.  That includes some of the classical repertoire of actual ballets.

A good friend of mine, whose partner was a one time publicist for the Martha Graham School  had remarked to me that from the time of Ms. Graham’s death until present-day, much of her curriculum had been almost entirely lost because it was so hard that no one could do it.  And so it has been a real struggle to regain the steps and knowledge about how to perform them as Martha would have wanted.  And this is a woman who codified a new form of dance for the modern century when there was film around to capture it.

For now, I won’t worry too much.  But I do want to continue to relish all the moments with these aging ballerinas.  The generous gifts they offer us every day, week, month, year, and  that they are still simply here, are as precious as they themselves are irreplaceable.

A lovely bit about my teacher:

Joan Bayley trained with and became the lead dancer of the Carmelita Maracci Concert group. While dancing for Balanchine she met and married Ray Weamer, a protege of Laurent Novikoff. In the 50s and 60s she coached Judy Garland, Danny Kaye, Marilyn Monroe and many film and stage stars.