Martha Graham Dance Company at Jacob’s Pillow

The Oldest American Dance Group

By: - Aug 22, 2023

Martha Graham Dance Company at Jacob’s Pillow,  August 16 to 20, 2023 

Martha Graham began her dance career with the Ted Shawn Dancers in California. In 1926, three years later, she started her own company and soon began to develop her now iconic style of then contemporary dance. Therefore, in 2026 Martha Graham Dance Company will celebrate 100 years of now modern and contemporary dance. What a feat!

The program at The Pillow presented two Graham choreographies. First, Errand into the Maze, which originated in 1947; then Cave of the Heart from 1946. To the music of Gian Carlo Menotti, Xin Ying on Sunday, during the last performance as Ariadne – not Theseus who, according to the myth,entered the labyrinth to slay the Minotaur – is guided by strings to eventually make her way back out of the maze. Alessio Crognale-Roberts, as Minotaur, is covered in total beige or brown tones (costumes by Maria Garcia) including a mesh to his face. The dancer is burdened by a yoke across his shoulders which renders him animal like.

The choreography, originally danced by Graham herself, of course, appears surprisingly contemporary. The encounter between Ariadne and the beast lasts several minutes with strong and broad steps, turns and ‘fights;’ the beast is hampered by the yoke. Yet, Crognale-Roberts also actually stood up on the yoke in some instances. The two dancers skillfully move around, against and with each other, while the Minotaur’s hands and arms, high in the air, are restricted by the yoke. Oh yes, the choreography is eventful! Finally, Ariadne overcomes the beast and the stage, just lit by spot lights by Lauren Libretti, turns abruptly black.

Cave of the Heart, 1946, is an adaptation of the powerful myth of Medea, a sorceress, who was a princess of the kingdom of Colchis. She falls in love with Jason and follows him to his home of Corinth, where they live in harmony until Jason was offered the princess of Corinth in marriage. Jason leaves Medea and his two children and marries the princess, in order to become eventually king. Medea, left by her lover in Corinth, plots to kill the young princess. The dancers, on Sunday, 8/20, were: Medea, Leslie Andrea Williams; Jason, Lorenzo Pagano; The Princess, Laurel Dalley Smith; and the Chorus, Ane Arrieta.

To the music of Samuel Barber, costumes by Graham herself, and original set design by Isamu Noguchi, the tale of love and revenge takes place. Only the princess is wearing a short, white costume to indicate her youth and innocence. Medea and The Chorus are in long robes: Medea in black, as murderer, and The Chorus in red, indicating blood-shed. The Chorus' dance foresees the tragedy, hands and arms often outstretched wide and up in the air in an attempt to contain the tragedy. The top of her body is covered by red-striped-wide material down to her waist, and a long, flowing dress to facilitate frantic movements. Jason, with close body armor, continually tries to protect his young princess against Medea, the sorceress and now snake - finally to no avail…. The dance played out like a silent tragic movie in Graham’s dance style that she taught her dancers and developed into a technique.

Today,  Cave of the Heart is indeed a modern dance of love, hate, revenge projecting how close love and hate can reside. -- Then the curtain falls for intermission.

According to Graham herself in 1991, the year of her death: “Pull, pull on the contraction. Do not cave in. And the contraction is not a position. It is a movement into something. It is like a pebble thrown into the water, which makes rippling circles when it hits the water. The contraction moves.” And subsequently the release. Then, in 2008 Joan Acocella wrote about Graham’s ‘classic style’: “Wheeling turns, off-center jumps, terrific falls, bodies spiraling to the floor and then surging upward again ... “ The technique, a corner stone of American modern dance, is still taught around the world.

Following intermission, a single dance, Cave of 2022, by Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter (Creative Producer Daniil Simkin and Choreography Assistant, Kim Kohlmann) was performed to the music by Ame and Shechter by following dancers: So Young An, James Anthony, Alessio Crognale-Roberts, Laurel Dalley Smith, Meagan King, Lloyd Knight, Marzia Memoli, Lorenzo Pagano, Anne Souder, Richard Villaverde, Leslie Andrea Williams, and Xin Ying. A kaleidoscope of colors, designed by Yi-Chung Chen with costumes by Caleb Krieg, gave this dance a frantically fast pace, mixing dance styles with loud sounds, percussion, and drums - as per program notes into a Rave-style event.

This company has kept up with the dance times (!) and commissioned works from a wide spectrum of choreographers and dance styles while also staying true to the Martha Graham oeuvre of 181 dance compositions of which they perform 50. With Janet Eilber as the Artistic Director since 2005 at the helm, The Martha Graham Dance Company has continued to enlighten, uplift and teach audiences and all connected to the dance world internationally.

Martha Graham( 1898 – 1991) was named among many honors and awards The Dancer of the Century.  Amen!