Martha Graham is an iconic name for those who follow dance.
Graham is no longer with us – she died in 1991 and her most influential work dates back to the 1930s and 1940s – yet the Martha Graham Dance Company lives on.
On Saturday, the oldest dance company in America arrives for a performance of some of its best-known works, including Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.”
The Spokane Symphony is hosting this appearance and will be providing the music, which is a departure from the troupe’s usual practice. This is the only performance on the Martha Graham Dance Company’s 25-city tour that will feature live music.
So the audience will get to experience “Appalachian Spring” as it was meant to be danced and as it was meant to be heard.
Graham choreographed “Appalachian Spring” in 1944 on commission, and gave the piece its name, after a poem by Hart Crane.
Yet Copland, who was a staunch admirer of Graham and her art, called his soon-to-be-famous piece simply, “Ballet for Martha.”
“Appalachian Spring” will fill the second half of Saturday’s performance. The first half will consist of a number of other dance pieces by this 21-person company, including:
• “Prelude and Revolt: Denishawn to Graham” – This is a montage of dance solos, arranged by the troupe’s artistic director, Janet Eilber, and danced by some of its talented dancers, including Carrie Ellmore-Tallistch, Tadej Brdnik, Miki Orihara, Jacquelyn Elder and Katherine Crockett.
• “Errand into the Maze” – A Graham piece about “an errand into the maze of the heart’s darkness in order to face and do battle with the Creature of Fear,” first performed in 1947.
• “Diversion of Angels” – A Graham dance about the three aspects of love: mature love, adolescent love and erotic love, first performed in 1948.
These pieces may help audiences understand the elemental role that Graham played in the development of American dance.
The young Graham first opened her dance school and studio in midtown Manhattan in 1926. She tirelessly developed innovative techniques that would, in her own words, “increase the emotional activity of the dancer’s body.”
Her company included names that became famous in American dance, including Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor.
According to a biography prepared by the troupe, Graham’s ballets were inspired by an unusual variety of sources: modern painting, the American frontier, Native American religious ceremonies and Greek mythology. She choreographed 181 works over six decades.
She used many strong female characters in her work, including Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Medea, Phaedra, Joan of Arc and Emily Dickinson.
The company is the touring arm of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance in Manhattan.