AMERICAN DANCE PLATFORM: GRAHAM AND PETRONIO
January 6, 2019
When APAP comes to town, NYC, already the center of cultural activity turn into a tsunami of artistic events. That’s because the conference draws performers, presenters, producers and professionals from all corners of the performing arts community to NYC for about one week of non-stop cultural activity. Disciplines across the performing arts spectrum organize platforms to introduce the all-powerful presenters to the available productions.
In this vein, the Joyce Theater presents the American Dance Platform series curated a by a different presenter every year. Generally, the companies present a tasting of their repertoire to tantalize the presenters and producers into wanting to learn more and help press the touring button on.
Opening night of the Platform was stellar. Stephen Petronio and the Martha Graham Dance Company shared a bill. And like Janet Eilber suggested in an introductory talk, the Graham Company was eager to share the spotlight with such a cool, and nervy dance company.
In truth, both proved their offerings were perfectly capable of standing the test of dance time.
Petronio presented the full length “Hardness 10” with music by Nico Muhly choreographed in 2018. Clear and precise, the movement architecture was pristine. Dancers moved in strong formations, generally 4 bodies in counterpoint to 3. Straight arms shoot out from the shoulder, legs snap into long lines, and torsos frequently face in relief. There’s geometric satisfaction in this work in the Baroque sense, which means it’s mathematically satisfying and emotionally gratifying: a wonderful mix of soul and structure.
To start the performance, the audience was treated to what might be one of this decade’s finest reconstructions of a male solo,” Goldberg “Variations.” Originally created performed by Steve Paxton in 1981, the godfather of contact improvisation, the solo is a wonder of muscle control and an internal rhythmic high.
When Petronio Company member Nick Sciscione performed an “iteration” of the piece in 2017, I asked Yvonne Rainer --Paxton’s colleague and founding member of the Judson Dance Theater--what she thought about the solo: “Celia, I wept when I saw it.” And that was because Sciscione channels Paxton’s idiosyncratic, intuitive movement sensibility encased in liquid matter and cosmic imagination.
On the heels of this postmodern setting, the Martha Graham Dance Company arrives. First there was “Woodland” by Pontus Lidberg to music by Irving Fine for the Graham Company in 2016. Very Flemish or possibly Tudoresque (Antony) in the vein of Graham -- a community of dancers outfitted in simple dresses or pants and shirts -- circle one woman in black and white. Soon, the outer dance circle dons wolf masks underscoring the single female’s “outsider” status until she becomes one of them.
The company executed the steps with finesse, easily moving between the softer lines of contemporary modern dance and Grahams sharper edged dips and contractions. But again, the real heart of the Graham program arrived with the performance of two excerpts from Martha Graham’s “Chronicle
created in 1936 in response to the disturbing actions of Hitler in Germany and actually chronicles the 1914 -1936 era. Two sections from this larger production were performed including “Steps in The Street” and “Prelude to Action.” A perfect antidote to today’s political folly, the women dressed in black marched out in determination. With fists clenched, knees rose up and slammed into the floor as ramrod straight torsos thrust fiercely into the future. Simple steps arranged in dynamic patterns unfurled defiant images of females in deep diagonals and in the end circles of determination.
In truth, Stephen Petronio and Janet Eilber (Direct of the Graham Company) should not be surprised if presenters ask to tour this exact program.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Celia Ipiotis