On Thursday, March 23, the University of Connecticut’s Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts hosted the country’s oldest modern dance company, the Martha Graham Dance Company. The company performed three pieces on the Jorgensen stage, reminding the world of the genius mind of Martha Graham. Each piece lasted approximately 25 minutes, but the mesmerizing movements made them feel significantly shorter. I found it impossible to pull my eyes away.
To preface, the Martha Graham Dance Company focuses on modern dance. This style only sometimes appears on stages today, as it has become slightly overshadowed by the popular style of contemporary dance. Modern dance precedes contemporary, but descends from ballet; it is more of a combination of the two combined. Because of this, modern dance breaks many of the core rules of ballet, yet doesn’t give way to the more natural feelings produced in contemporary. This makes the style especially difficult, but all the more worthy of appreciation, praise and recognition.
The first piece, titled “Dark Meadow Suite,” followed the story of a man and woman, as I presume, in love. The first half of the dance focused on the woman and her perspective. While the woman had a featured role in the first group part, she also had a lengthy solo that transitioned from an all-female performance to the introduction of an all-male performance. At such point, four men gracefully executed a piece followed by one dancer also performing a solo to depict the man’s perspective.
This first dance concluded with a duet between the featured male and female dancers that later brought in the rest of their ensemble for the outro. The lighting for this dance mostly encapsulated warm tones, which I found very appropriate in conveying a joyous love story. Although the costumes were on the simpler side, the rest of the show proved that such a decision was necessary, as the overall performance quality grew more and more with each piece. The complexity of the choreography and timing of this first dance locked the audience in for the rest of the show.
The second piece, “Cortege 2023,” executed a very different vibe; I interpreted the core message of it as loss or illness. A group of roughly 12 dancers performed with an occasional partner or smaller group sections. The dancers beautifully executed a contrast between the moments of stillness and chaos. Additionally, the lighting for this piece masterfully highlighted what needed attention. Distractions from transitions or formation assemblages would have taken away from the overall effectiveness of the piece. The lighting comprised thoughtfully placed, slightly dimmed spotlights as well as sparse usage of simply-colored tree lights. For readers not familiar with the anatomy of the theater, tree lights are structures with three lights stacked upon each other used to brighten the sides of the stage.
“Cortege 2023” was my personal favorite, as I found the choreography especially riveting. The juxtaposition between the opening dance and this one kept me, and surely the rest of the audience, awake and excited.
The final dance, “Canticle for Innocent Comedians,” made me feel as though I was watching a watercolor painting come to life. This piece showcased all 16 of the company dancers. While I could not grasp the “message” behind the piece, I believe that it still provided the audience an opportunity to appreciate the integrity of Martha Graham’s modern choreography.
“Canticle for Innocent Comedians” was originally choreographed by Martha Graham herself in 1958. While the choreography has evolved since the piece’s debut, the core of the dance reigned powerfully on the Jorgensen stage.
Modern dance had a massive contribution to the 20th century but has unfortunately been overshadowed by competitive dance styles that have gained popularity. The masters of modern dance work to remind the world that the purpose of dance is to appreciate the movements our bodies are capable of. While as humans, we naturally feel attracted to flashy tricks and turns, remembering the roots of it all will help the art form continue its effect on the world as we know it today.