Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge, announces its presentation of the celebrated Martha Graham Dance Company, in its sole Los Angeles appearance in the 2014-15 season. The esteemed and historic dance company, founded by Martha Graham in 1926, will appear at VPAC Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 8pm. VPAC is offering additional related events including educational programs and a photography exhibit in the VPAC Gallery, featuring iconic imagery of the Martha Graham Dance Company taken by photographer Barbara Morgan.
VPAC’s Graham Company program includes a rare staging of Appalachian Spring (1944) set to Aaron Copland’s Pulitzer Prize-winning score. Considered Graham’s great enduring masterwork, Appalachian Spring celebrates its 70th birthday this season. The program also features Lamentation Variations, newly choreographed by three celebrated dance makers: Sonya Tayeh, Kyle Abraham and Larry Keigwin. The works by Tayeh and Abraham are West Coast premiers following their debut at the Joyce Theater in New York. Tayeh is best known to television audiences for her choreography for So You Think You Can Dance.
Valley Performing Arts Center Executive Director Thor Steingraber says, “We are proud to present the Martha Graham Dance Company in Los Angeles, especially for this opportunity to celebrate Appalachian Spring in its 70th anniversary. We embrace the continuing appeal of this treasured American dance company, especially as it bridges some of our nation’s greatest dance history with the “now.””
Says Martha Graham Company Artistic Director Janet Eilber, “We’re excited to bring a program to VPAC that includes amazing, cutting-edge works that resonate with Graham classics like Appalachian Spring. The brand new choreography brings a fresh perspective to Graham’s legacy, and the Graham masterworks give a greater context to the contemporary work. It’s an incredibly powerful interaction that gives our audiences so many new ways to get inside the art. Graham’s dance career began in Southern California about 100 years ago, and with new works by Sonya Tayeh, Andonis Foniadakis, Kyle Abraham and others on the program, our performance will span almost a century of Graham’s innovation and influence.”
Graham repertoire to be performed at VPAC
Appalachian Spring (1944), a landmark, stirring work about community is infused with the pioneering spirit of the American frontier. Undisputedly the choreographer’s most beloved signature piece, Appalachian Spring translates into colorful dance language its Aaron Copland score, which was commissioned by Graham. The dance premiered seventy years ago, on October 30, 1944, with Graham herself performing the lead role.
Errand into the Maze (1947), the second of the program’s two historic works, is a dance-duet belonging to the choreographer’s canon of works steeped in Greek mythology. Set to a score by Gian Carlo Menotti, the dance derives from the myth of Theseus, who journeys into the labyrinth to confront the Minotaur, a creature half man, half beast. Substituting a heroine for the hero of Greek mythology in her dance, Martha Graham created a strong female protagonist.
Lamentation Variations (2007), an ongoing choreography project to infuse contemporary flair and maintain the Graham Company as a vital creative engine for dance, features dance sketches by leading contemporary choreographers inspired by Martha Graham’s iconic solo, Lamentation (1930). Ten dance makers have thus far honored Graham by participating in the “Variations” project along the following constraints: 10 hours of rehearsal, public domain music or silence, basic costumes and lighting design. The latest, Sonya Tayeh, has worked with Madonna, Florence and the Machine, Kylie Mingus and Miley Cyrus.
Echo (2014), a new work to music by Julian Tarride by contemporary Greek choreographer, Andonis Foniadakis, inspired by the Greek myth of Narcissus and Echo, completes the program. In the work, Foniadakis portrays Narcissus and his reflection, Echo and her multiple voices, the impossibility love and the vanity of beauty. Foniadakis has created works for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Geneva Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and L.A. Dance Project, among others.
Photo exhibition: “Past-Future-Perfect: The 20th Century Influences of Martha Graham and Barbara Morgan”
A photography homage to the Martha Graham Company will be on view in the VPAC Art Gallery Loge March 12 – May 15, 2015. The exhibition includes rare black-and-white prints and iconic Barbara Morgan photography lent from the collection of the Los Angeles Dance Foundation (LADF). Prominent dance history is captured: Martha Graham in Lamentation (1930) and in Frontier (1935), the latter signaling Graham’s long collaborative relationship with critically acclaimed Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The VPAC exhibit marks only the second time that the collection has been on public view in California. Bonnie Oda Homsey’s relationship with the Morgan family resulted in the gift of Barbara Morgan signed photographs to LADF in 2003, in support of the foundation’s mission to promote greater appreciation of America’s iconic dance legacies.
Barbara Morgan (1900 – 1992) was already an accomplished artist working in drawing, watercolor and print making when she entered photography in the early ’30s. In 1935, Morgan attended a performance by Martha Graham Dance Company that launched their life-long collaboration. A most famous Morgan photo captures Graham in Letters to the World. In 1941, Morgan produced the book, Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs.
Bonnie Oda Homsey serves as Chair of Dance and member of the Arts Advisory Board for The Princess Grace Foundation U.S.A. Formerly a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Company under the direction of Graham, she also danced with Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Ethel Winter Dance Company and Hawaii Opera Guild. She founded and is Director of Los Angeles Dance Foundation and co-founded American Repertory Dance Company (ARDC), its award winning performance entity. For ten years, Oda Homsey led the company to produce 40+ reconstructions presented in thematic concerts that informed ARDC’s arts education and outreach programming.
Master Class, MGDC Auditions
Lead dancers of the Martha Graham Dance Company will conduct a master class in the Martha Graham technique April 17, 2015 in the VPAC Rehearsal Room. The class will be open to a limited number of local college and high school students. As part of the MGDC engagement, the company has selected VPAC as a site for national auditions for future engagement into the company’s School Programs and Graham 2. This audition workshop will follow the Master Class and will be led by Principal Graham Dancer Tadej Brdnik.
Pre performance talk: Classroom in the Courtyard
Audience members can enjoy a free dance discussion in Kurland Hall located in the VPAC courtyard. Arts writer Debra Levine will present “Would Martha Approve? The Contemporizing of the Martha Graham Dance Company.” Levine, a former dancer, began her own dance training in the Graham technique. Levine’s dance criticism and feature writing have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post and Dance Magazine. She blogs about dance on artsmeme.com.
Classroom in the Courtyard pre-performance lecture series featuring CSUN faculty experts and guest speakers aims at enhancing the understanding and enjoyment of the VPAC performances. Series takes place from 6:50pm–7:30pm in Kurland Hall, located in VPAC’s courtyard area just behind the VPAC main box office.
About The Martha Graham Dance Company
The Martha Graham Dance Company has been a leader in the development of contemporary dance since its founding in 1926. Informed by the expansive vision of its pioneering founder, the Company has expanded contemporary dance’s vocabulary with masterpieces such as Appalachian Spring, Lamentation and Chronicle, rooted in social, political, psychological, and sexual contexts.
Always a fertile ground for experimentation, the Martha Graham Dance Company has been an unparalleled resource in nurturing many of the leading choreographers and dancers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Graham’s groundbreaking technique and unmistakable style have earned the Company acclaim from audiences in more than 50 countries throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
About Martha Graham (1894 –1991)
Martha Graham’s creativity crossed artistic boundaries and embraced every artistic genre. She collaborated with and commissioned work from the leading visual artists, musicians, and designers of her day, including sculptor Isamu Noguchi and fashion designers Halston, Donna Karan, and Calvin Klein, as well as composers Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, William Schuman, Norman Dello Joio and Gian Carlo Menotti.
Influencing generations of choreographers and dancers including Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp, Graham forever altered the scope of dance. Classical ballet dancers Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov sought her out to broaden their artistry, and artists of all genres were eager to study and work with Graham—she taught actors including Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Madonna, Liza Minelli, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson and Joanne Woodward to utilize their bodies as expressive instruments.
Graham’s groundbreaking style grew from her experimentation with the elemental movements of contraction and release. By focusing on the basic activities of the human form, she enlivened the body with raw, electric emotion. The sharp, angular, and direct movements of her technique were a dramatic departure from the predominant style of the time.
Consistently infused with social, political, psychological, and sexual themes, Graham’s choreography is timeless, connecting with audiences past and present. Works such as Revolt (1927), Immigrant: Steerage, Strike (1928) and Chronicle (1936)—personify Graham’s commitment to addressing challenging contemporary issues and distinguish her as a conscientious and politically powerful artist.
Martha Graham remained a strong advocate of the individual throughout her career, creating works such as Deaths and Entrances (1943), Appalachian Spring (1944), Dark Meadow (1946) and Errand into the Maze (1947) to explore human and societal complexities. During her long and illustrious career, Graham created 181 masterpiece dance compositions, which continue to challenge and inspire generations. “I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer,” she said. “It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.”
Tickets range from $40 – $65 and can be purchased at http://www.valleyperformingartscenter.org/calendar/martha-graham-dance-company/.