Nuts in May

From Martha to Hip-Hop—New Yorkers, It’s All Ours!

The single evening at City Center was entitled "Indisputably Martha Graham." As the legal battle over who actually owns Graham's works winds down, there's no doubt that the dances presented were hers—grand, lofty artworks unlike anything seen before or since—and that the dancers were "hers," trained in her technique and (some of them) exposed to her power while she lived.

Several generations of Graham dancers studded the audience (sadly missing: one important former company member, David Wood, recently deceased). If the crammed house was any indication, ticket sales and the post-performance fundraising celebration more than covered expenses. When the curtain went up on Seraphic Dialogue, Saint Joan's three guiding saints in their golden Noguchi cages had to freeze for an age because we were applauding so hard. Who owns these dances? We do! Admittedly there were flaws, but the company—off the stage for too long—put on a glorious evening. As the central Joan, Terese Capucilli started off understandably tense, but by her second solo, she was magnificent, embodying the visions and battles of the other Joan aspects, refracting them all through her dancing. Christine Dakin (with Capucilli an artistic coordinator of the company) acted a finely nuanced Jocasta in Night Journey, with the excellent assistance of Kenneth Topping, Gary Galbraith, and Alexandra Prosperi (also outstanding as Joan the Warrior).

The evening's novelty was a revival of Embattled Garden (1958), in which Adam and Eve (Tadej Brdnik and Miki Orihara) are set upon by Elizabeth Auclair as Adam's first wife, Lilith (she didn't make it into the Bible), and Christophe Jeannot, fiercely predatory as the Stranger. Fine, white-hot performing from all. To Carlos Surinach's vibrant music, the four in their Spanishy costumes prowl Noguchi's bright-colored conversation pit of a set or climb its laddering tree. The wise woman and the savvy outsider direct their erotic wiles toward the innocent first couple. Ancient myth meets suburban key party, and guilt parries awakening delight.

Smooth moves: Najib Guerfi and Bintou Dembele in Compagnie Käfig’s Dix Versions
photo: Pete Kuhns
Smooth moves: Najib Guerfi and Bintou Dembele in Compagnie Käfig’s Dix Versions

The program also featured a late-Graham bit of erotica ("Conversation of Lovers" from Acts of Light, danced by Katherine Crockett and Martin Lofsnes) and "Steps in the Street" from the 1936 Chronicle (ironically reconstructed to music Wallingford Riegger wrote for Graham's rival Doris Humphrey). The latter, a thunderous work from the early uncompromising days of modern dance, makes your spine tingle: so many strong women on the march—powerful, dedicated, beautiful.

The evening's unexpressed thought: Let this choreography, too, march on.

It's all in the program—how Marcus Antonius was a stalwart fellow, but also a debauchee who screwed up royally when Caesar left him in charge of Rome. Losing the sea battle of Actium, he turned tail, leaving his troops in the lurch. And then there was his power-hungry sweetie, Cleopatra. Karinne Keithley is not only an extremely interesting choreographer; she's a history buff.

In Keithley's Islander at Galapagos May 9 and 10, Antony is still alive after 2033 years. He (Keithley) sits alone in a lighthouse, gazing at the sea as the centuries pass, and reviewing his life as he reads accounts of it (scurrilous! wrong!) in books deposited every hundred years or so by a pigeon (the wonderful Paul Matteson). Actually, Antony finally realizes, the bird is his ancestor Hercules in disguise. This sly, wry, homespun production features excellent incidental music by Jude Webre and projections by, I guess, lighting designer Martin Stevenson. Melissa Briggs, Sara Procopio, Shoshana Hoffert, and Mindy Nelson make repeated entrances as a highly individualized Greek chorus—sometimes as four crows (their T-shirts say so) who chatter and wing about and balance precariously in a flock, yelling out remarks like "Windy today!"

Supposedly what we see is all the work of Antony. Keithley sits writing at a little desk, switching on a lamp when she wants to talk to us. Fragments of history slip in obliquely. After Matteson (billed as Harlequin) has whipped through some of Keithley's inventive, cockeyed movement, eyeing the space distrustfully, the four women stagger in, lean on the back wall, and retch extravagantly (Antony vomiting in the senate after a night on the town?). As the centuries creep by, a decorous court dance intrudes. Keithley too dances—an unsteady approximation of Matteson's solo, and a duet with him at the 1837 mark, in which she wears a military jacket and he pushes her up the wall with one hand. What else? Hoffert also appears in a pigeon head made of duct tape. Keithley and Nelson stand at mics and harmonize sweetly. I wouldn't mind seeing Islander again right now.

In Tere O'Connor's works, form and content jostle each other. The dancers performing his new Winter Belly and the 2001 Choke (at Danspace St. Mark's last week) form circles, contrapuntal ranks, and unison advances, but their movements—lush, beautiful dancing coupled with odd gestures displaced from reality—strain against that formality, those known structures. At one point in Winter Belly, the performers emerge from a bout of movement and stand licking their wrists while O'Connor dances; when he joins them, they all explode into vigorous motion again. Another time, Caitlin Cook stops and opens her mouth in a silent cry, her hands framing her chin. Justin Jones and Erin Gerken watch, then take her arms and sort of smooth them forcefully down, almost as if unrolling a sleeve. A moment like this has no consequences. It's followed by a bit of London Bridge, some weird sexy behavior. Then the two smile at us while batting Cook, stiff as a board, rapidly back and forth between them, and they all move on.

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