Namesake company does justice to Martha Graham's best works

June 27, 1996|By J.L. Conklin | J.L. Conklin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Martha Graham Dance Company came to Wolf Trap for an all-too-brief two-day stay on Tuesday night. The company, now under the artistic direction of Ronald Protas, a longtime associate of the late Martha Graham, still has the power to elevate its audience.

Opening the program was "Acts of Light," set to the introspective music of Carl Nielsen. The dance could be a synopsis of Graham's choreographic legacy, for there are distinct references to her other dances.

The work opened with a chorus of men, draped in soft fabric, who moved in a slow, stately fashion across the stage. In their midst was Katherine Crockett, who stood alone after the men departed. Crockett is a dancer with incredible strength and ability; every muscle knows what to do. Her precarious off-center balances were danced with precision and surety. Joining her was partner Peter London, whose long, lanky frame was impressive.

Their pas de deux was larger than life. With enormous gestures and overstated dramatics it echoed the antics of the heroes and heroines that populate Graham's dances. Performing with remarkable emotional clarity, the couple navigated their temperamental topography with ease.

Rika Okamoto was the focal point in the second section, "Lament." Accompanied by Chad Bantner, Gary Galbraith, Martin Lofsnes and Martin Rose, Okamoto, swathed in white, evoked Graham's seminal solo in "Lamentations."

The third section, "Ritual to the Sun," with its lexicon of Graham technique, was thrilling as the company of 18 dancers moved in unison. Once again, Crockett and London were highlighted, and the dance, with its Yoga-inspired movements and Zen attitude, was much like "Acrobats of God," Graham's signature work that traditionally opened her concerts.

"Sketches from Chronicle," created in 1936, was vintage Graham. The stark, gut-wrenching movements of its performers and its ever-shifting ensembles of women created a dark and potent atmosphere that was underlined by hints of military marches in the score by Wallingford Riegger. "Spectre 1914," a stunning solo danced by Terese Capucilli, was filled with classical and symbolic allusions of grief and loss.

"Steps in the Street" featured Okamoto, who led 10 women whose shifting contrapuntal phalanx formations effectively suggested masses of the disenfranchised. The third section, "Prelude to Action," brought Capucilli and Okamoto together in a war of wills. As the chorus of women swirled about the couple, the music and the dance climaxed.

The evening concluded with "Maple Leaf Rag," a light-hearted work for the entire company and the last piece Martha Graham created before her death in 1991. "Maple Leaf Rag" is filled with self-parody and abounds with almost anecdotal episodes. While Graham is mostly noted for her serious, soul-searching compositions, she undoubtedly had a witty streak. Here, as in all the dances, the Martha Graham Company danced with expertise and from the heart.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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