Sept. 18, 2006
Martha Graham Dance Company's 80th Anniversary Includes Hancher Performance
The University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium will celebrate the foundations of modern dance when the Martha Graham Dance Company marks its 80th anniversary with a performance at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, in the auditorium.
Martha Graham's name is synonymous with modern dance, and on Oct. 3 the company she founded in 1926 will perform works that span her creative life:
-- "Prelude and Revolt," seven excerpts from Graham's earliest works, charting the American revolution in dance;
-- "Appalachian Spring," her best-known masterpiece, choreographed in 1944 with music commissioned from Aaron Copland; and
-- the late work "Acts of Light" from 1981, inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson and danced to music by Carl Nielsen.
"Appalachian Spring" will be the focus of a live "Know the Score" broadcast 5-7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, on UI radio station KSUI, FM 91.7. Joan Kjaer will host the broadcast, which will originate in a free event at the UI Museum of Art. Listen on the Internet at http://ksui.uiowa.edu.
Copland's working title for what would become an essential piece of American music was simply "Ballet for Martha." He didn't know the theme or the setting of the ballet, only that he should use the theme from the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts," and that the size of the venue required a relatively small ensemble. The score was nearly completed when Graham titled her dance, and he commented, "I gave voice to that region without knowing I was giving voice to it."
Copland's music and Graham's choreography converged to tell a story told of mythic impact -- a spring celebration of the American pioneers of the 1800s after building a new Pennsylvania farmhouse. Among the central characters are a newlywed couple, a neighbor, a revivalist preacher and his followers.
The Martha Graham Dance Company is the oldest and most celebrated contemporary dance company in America, receiving international acclaim from audiences in more than 50 countries throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In addition, the company has also produced several award-winning films that have been broadcast on PBS and around the world.
Graham (1894-1991), whom Time magazine dubbed "the mother of American dance" when identifying her as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, choreographed 181 works in her lifetime. "Graham was far from the first dancer to rip off her toe shoes and break with the rigid conventions of 19th-century ballet," dance critic Terry Teachout wrote. "America in the 1910s and '20s was full of young women (modern dance in the beginning was very much a women's movement) with similar notions.
"But it was her homegrown technique -- the fierce pelvic contractions, the rugged 'floor work' that startled those who took for granted that real dancers soared through the air -- that caught on, becoming the cornerstone of postwar modern dance. Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris -- all are Graham's children and grandchildren.
"Her methods are routinely taught today in studios the world over, but you need not have studied them or even have seen any of her dances to be influenced by them. They are part of the air every contemporary dancer breathes. . . . Did she invent modern dance? No, but she came to embody it, arrogantly and spectacularly -- and, it appears, permanently."
Though Graham herself was the best-known alumna of her company, having danced from the company's inception until the late 1960s, it has been a training ground for some of modern dance's most illustrious performers and choreographers: Cunningham, Taylor, Erick Hawkins, Pearl Lang, Elisa Monte, Glen Tetley, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Donlin Foreman and Pascal Rioult.
One of her students was Batsheva de Rothchild, who established the Batsheva Dance Company in Israel in 1958 and tapped Graham to become the company's first director and choreographer. That part of the Graham legacy will also be explored when the Batsheva company performs in Hancher Oct. 19.
Among celebrities who have joined the company in performance are Mikhail Baryshnikov, Claire Bloom, Margot Fonteyn, Liza Minnelli, Rudolf Nureyev, Maya Plisetskaya and Kathleen Turner.
Anna Kisselgoff, former chief dance critic of the New York Times, called Graham's ensemble"one of the great companies of the world," and Alan M. Kriegsman of the Washington Post referred to the company as "one of the seven wonders of the artistic universe."
Martha Graham never danced on the Hancher stage -- she had retired from performance four years before Hancher opened in 1972 -- but Hancher presented the company twice during her lifetime, in 1975 and 1981. Now Hancher, as one of the nation's premier dance venues, has the honor of helping to celebrate her company's 80th birthday, along with locations including Cologne, Munich and Hamburg in Germany; Rotterdam in the Netherlands; Thessaloniki and Athens in Greece; and several other Big 10 campuses.
The Martha Graham Dance Company in Hancher is supported by Richard and Mary Jo Stanley through the University of Iowa Foundation.
$45/42/38; UI student $40.50/15; senior citizen $40.50/37.80/34.20; youth $31.50/29.40/26.60. Discounted concert tickets are available as part of volume purchases: A simultaneous purchase of five events or more qualifies for a 15-percent discount.
Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.
Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website: http://www.hancher.uiowa.edu.
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