'Solo' returns to modern-dance classics

March 02, 1998|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When a great modern-dance choreographer creates a solo for herself, it's like a writer turning from novel to short story. The materials and the method are the same, but the result is more concentrated, polished and personal.

And the great modern dancers -- who were, by and large, American women -- all began working out their signature styles by creating work for their singular bodies.

That's one point "Tribute to the Solo," at the Kennedy Center tomorrow through Thursday, is trying to make. Another is that some of the choreographers who loudly proclaimed their individuality were linked to their contemporaries -- sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly.

"Solo" presents the work of seven major names of modern dance (and one unusual addition), performed by five dancers closely associated with these artists. Two pieces by Martha Graham, for instance, will be danced by Janet Eilber, a 10-year member of the Graham company and currently its director of Graham ballets, responsible for maintaining the standards of the choreographer as the pieces pass to new dancers.

Similarly, a work by Martha Clarke, who got her start with Pilobolus, will be danced by Carol Parker, a longtime member of Pilobolus; and Risa Steinberg will dance "Kaddish" by Anna Sokolow, her colleague on the faculty of the Juilliard School.

The program for all three evenings includes:

"Lamentation" (1930), one of the most famous works of the modern repertory, and "Satiric Festival Song" (1932), a largely forgotten work by Graham. "Lamentation," to music of the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly, is an expression of muted grief, performed by a dancer encased in an amorphous tube of gray stretch jersey. (Graham invented the tube, which is made of the same material as the leotard, which she also invented.) The image of the hooded and cloaked figure is taken from the sculpture "Russian Beggar Woman" by Austrian expressionist Ernst Barlach. The dancer spends the entire piece rooted to a bench.

"Hexentanz" ("Witch Dance"), a dance that preoccupied the German expressionist choreographer Mary Wigman from 1916 to 1923. This most famous of her "mask dances" was said to have been born when she awoke in the middle of the night and caught sight of her face, barred with moonlight and shadow, in a mirror.

Wigman said the dance was a portrait of the demon in every woman and that the emotions she brought up when she danced it scared her, according to dance historian Jenefer Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley.

An interesting parallel between the works: For many years, Graham and Wigman tried to go to each other's countries to perform a collaborative program. But both were busy teachers and performers, and neither had the money or the time to travel. World War II -- which Wigman (1886-1973) spent under virtual house arrest by the Nazis -- put an end to the plans.

After the war, Graham was no longer humble enough to share a program with any other choreographer-performer.

"Hexentanz" will be danced by Bonnie Oda Homsey, co-director of American Repertory Dance Company. She will also dance "Pizzicati," by the only male choreographer of the program, Michio Ito (1892-1961). Ito was a Japanese modern dancer much influenced by Wigman and Harald Kreuzberg, who toured Japan in the '20s. He lived in the United States for almost a decade and might have influenced American dance more had he not been deported by U.S. authorities in 1942 as an enemy alien. He never returned.

"Negro Spirituals" by Helen Tamiris, who changed her name from Helen Becker because she wanted to sound more exotic. Tamiris (1905-1966) was a socially conscious choreographer who was the first, black or white, to use black spirituals as music for concert dance. She premiered various pieces of this eight-part suite between 1928 and 1942.

Dianne McIntyre, who danced with the jazz company of Gus Solomons Jr., will dance several of the solos from this group work. The music includes "Go Down, Moses," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Git on Board, Li'l Chillun" and "Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho."

"Kaddish" (1945) by Sokolow (born 1912). Another of the socially active choreographers who came of age in the '30s, Sokolow set this piece, based on the Jewish prayer for the dead, to music of Ravel. It reflects, in its sparsity and austerity, her long interest in the works of Samuel Beckett, many of whose minimalist plays she choreographed.

Steinberg will also dance "Envy" and "Wrath" from the "Roads to Hell" series (1941) by Eleanor King (born 1906). Of the seven deadly sins, the set comprises four -- the two not being danced are "Pride" and "Sloth." The music is by Genevieve Pitot, a forgotten composer of the era, who created music for many of the seminal figures of modern dance.

Stanford University dance historian Janice Ross, who studied with King in 1972, said: "She was known as a humorist, with a light wit." "Roads to Hell" begins satirically but gets progressively darker, with "Wrath" a brutal and enraged climax.

"Nocturne" (1979) by Clarke is a sardonic danse macabre in which a ghost clad in a tattered crinoline, her features masked, dances through the cobwebs of an abandoned house to the music of a Mendelssohn nocturne.

Finally, Eilber also will dance "The Stab" (1985) by contemporary Argentine choreographer Susana Tambutti, who was protesting the deaths of the "dirty war" of the Argentine government against its own people.

'Tribute to the Solo'

When: 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow-Thursday

Where: Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center

Tickets: $23

Call: 202-467-4600

Pub Date: 3/02/98

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