Los Angeles Dance Preview: MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE COMPANY (The Wallis in Beverly Hills)

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by Tony Frankel on November 7, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


The gorgeous Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts will present for its inaugural attraction the Martha Graham Dance Company, playing today and tomorrow only, November 8 and 9. The festive and comprehensive program of Graham favorites will play in the brand new state-of-the-art Bram Goldsmith Theater, the most perfectly intimate space for dance that I have seen in Los Angeles. With only 500 seats, each one extraordinarily spacious and with incredible sightlines, the show is nearly sold out, so act fast for this rare visit from 19 world-class dancers of the Graham Company.

Believe it or not, Modern Dance was born right here in Los Angeles almost 100 years ago, and one of the students at the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts (named after dance pioneers Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn) was Martha Graham. She would later state, “At the time I started in ballet they were dancing The Spirit of Champagne on pointe, in Paris. I thought, I don’t want to dance the spirit of champagne, I want to drink it!” Thus, the program at the Wallis will focus on her beginnings here, but will also showcase her enduring masterworks. For over 70 years, this forward-looking and creative genius revolutionized dance, and her company continues her legacy by creating new platforms for contemporary dance while offering both Graham’s works and commissioned pieces by contemporary artists.

Opening the program is a suite entitled Prelude and Revolt: Denishawn to Graham, an event that uses dance, narration and media to chart the era of Graham’s revolutionary discoveries. A montage of solo works is a living history lesson in early modern dance, and this portion includes St. Denis’s floating The Incense (1906), Shawn’s fabulously-costumed male solo Gnossienne (1919, inspired by a series of bas-reliefs depicting a ritual to the Snake Goddess from the Temple of Knossos in Crete), and Graham’s veiled, more meditative Tanagra (1926). Remember, these dances were choreographed after Nijinsky transformed ballet with The Rite of Spring, so look for a fascination with exoticism, a style Graham would eventually rebel against. The suite continues with Serenata Morisca, a 1916 Shawn dance reconstructed by Graham, best known for its quick turns, high kicks and fiery rhythms.

Lamentation, choreographed four short years after Tanagra, is disputably Graham’s groundbreaking work: a shaking, flailing personification of grief. The dancer is not a person but the sputtering, straining portrait that presents the very essence of grief.

Maple Leaf Rag is Graham’s humorous, playful, over-the-top and loving tribute to the choreographic muse (it is also her last complete ballet, which premiered in 1990). With costumes by Calvin Klein, the dance takes a sly look at the foibles of a contemporary choreographer and gently mocks the plight of the artist in the throes of creation. It is also a fond tribute to the Scott Joplin music of her youth and to her long association with Louis Horst, her one-time mentor and lover.

In addition to the scheduled performances, a 90-minute master class on the Martha Graham technique will be offered on Saturday, November 9, from 10:00 – 11:30am, led by Denise Vale, former star and current senior artistic associate of the Graham Dance Company. This workshop will look at the famed physical vocabulary created by Martha Graham.

photos by John Dean and Costas

Martha Graham Dance Company
Janet Eilber, Artistic Director
Bram Goldsmith Theater
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills
Friday, November 8 at 8:00
Saturday, November 9 at 3:00 & 8:00
for tickets, call 310-746-4000
or visit The Wallis

for tour info, visit Martha Graham

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