It is difficult to imagine, but the world-renowned Martha Graham Dance Company is celebrating its 95th season, and as part of that celebration, the company has announced GrahamFest95. It is a three-day virtual festival April 30 – May 2, 2021 featuring streams of Graham’s classics, the Company premiere of Elisa Monte’s signature work, Treading (1979); four solos by Sir Robert Cohan; Lamentation Variations by Kyle Abraham (Artistic Director of A.I.M); dancer/performing artist/director/filmmaker Richard Move; and Strasbourg-born choreographer/dancer Nicolas Paul; as well as the duet from American choreographer Troy Schumacher’s The Auditions, created for the Company in 2019. All events listed in the schedule below are Eastern Time and streamed live from the Martha Graham Studio Theater.
Martha Graham founded her Company in 1926 and her company has continued to be in the forefront of presenting and developing contemporary dance way past Graham’s death in 1991. The Company received a major resurgence when it came under the Artistic Directorship of former Company member Janet Eilber. Eilber has not only breathed new life into Graham’s repertoire but has commissioned new works by known and emerging dance artists. Through her efforts, Eilber has restored the past and helped secure the future of the Martha Graham Dance Company.
Graham was a unique American modern dancer and choreographer who not only reshaped the world of dance during her lifetime, but she was one of the few modern dance choreographers who created a codified dance technique that continues to be taught around the world today. The Company has performed to adoring audiences in more than 50 countries throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, performing at the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, the Paris Opera House, Covent Garden, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as well as at the base of the Great Pyramids in Egypt and in the ancient Herod Atticus Theatre on the Acropolis in Athens. In addition, the Company has produced several award-winning films broadcast on PBS and around the world. You can learn more about these by clicking HERE.
The festival will also feature “a collaborative project with international art gallery Hauser & Wirth. This collaboration involves the creation and premiere of four films that place three Graham dances and one Cohan work in conversation with the works of four acclaimed visual artists—Rita Ackermann, Mary Heilmann, Luchita Hurtado, and Rashid Johnson. The festival wraps up with a closing-night Zoom cocktail event with the dancers. GrahamFest95 runs Friday, April 30–Sunday, May 2.” (Graham Company press release – 4/19/2021)
“This past year has required us to embrace—if not celebrate—uncertainty and change. Our physical survival has depended on distancing and our artistic and spiritual survival has depended on discovering new ways to connect,” says Artistic Director Janet Eilber. “GrahamFest95 will showcase a range of experimental digital offerings as well as the first steps in the return to live performance. Our collaborations with great Graham alumni Elisa Monte and Sir Robert Cohan, as well as those with some of today’s most extraordinary visual artists, speak to both the past and the future of our creative legacy. We see the festival not so much as the end of a challenging year, but as a launch into whatever our 96th season and beyond may hold.”
Eilber and Monte will discuss Graham’s roles for women and the genesis of her work Treading. This work is set to music by Steve Reich and was commissioned by Martha Graham and created while Monte was still dancing with the Company.
“It is with great pleasure that I continue to be a part of Martha’s remarkable sphere of creation,” says Elisa Monte. “Martha offered me the opportunity to create in 1979 when I was a dancer in her company. Now, after a 40-year span, I joyfully return to close the circle of a creative path. Treading was a labor of love, and I offer it back in admiration of Martha’s genius. She challenged all those she admired, and I welcomed her challenge and am grateful for it. It propelled me to who and what I am.”
Included in the festival are works by Graham alumnus, the legendary Sir Robert Cohan, considered the founder of contemporary dance in the UK. The solos Lloyd and Lorenzo from Afternoon Conversations with Dancers will be presented along with two excerpts from Communion, Cohan’s last major group work, set to music by Nils Frahm. Graham solos Deep Song, Spectre-1914, and My River Runs to Thee from Letter to the World and duets Conversations of Lovers and Moon from Canticle for Innocent Comedians will also be presented on GrahamFest95.
Films that were created in collaboration with Hauser & Wirth combine four artists represented by the gallery with dance works that resonate with each artist’s work.
About the artwork
Rita Ackermann’s Mama Paintings are layered compositions of figurative drawings and bold gestural abstractions in paint. Her images are the product of automatic gestures, a subconscious unfolding on canvas. These are paired with the newly reimagined Immediate Tragedy, Graham’s solo representing a woman’s challenge to move forward against all odds.
Mary Heilmann’s wit and colorful geometric paintings are presented with Satyric Festival Song, one of Graham’s abstract modernist solos, performed by Xin Ying.
Luchita Hurtado created a series of abstract paintings that, like Graham’s Dark Meadow, evoke a figure in the landscape of the American Southwest. Both artists use a spiritual simplicity that references space and the body as metaphors. Hurtado’s work will be seen in relation to Saraband, the duet from Dark Meadow.
Rashid Johnson’s series, titled Anxious Red Paintings, renders an audience of anxious faces in red oil stick. This is paired with a solo by Robert Cohan in which a man slowly trembles and crumbles before our eyes. Lloyd Knight, who collaborated with Johnson on The Hikers in 2019, will dance the solo.
Hauser & Wirth was founded in 1992 in Zurich by Iwan Wirth, Manuela Wirth, and Ursula Hauser, who were joined in 2000 by partner and president Marc Payot. A family business with a global outlook, Hauser & Wirth has expanded over the past 29 years to include outposts in Hong Kong, London, New York, Los Angeles, Somerset, Gstaad, and St. Moritz. The gallery represents over 80 artists and estates who have been instrumental in shaping its identity over the past quarter century, and who are the inspiration for Hauser & Wirth’s diverse range of activities that engage with art, education, conservation, and sustainability. To learn more about the gallery, click HERE.
GrahamFest95 Ticketing information:
Full GrahamFest95 pass: $95 (programs will remain available until May 30, 2021). Single tickets for one livestreamed program: $30. Single tickets to watch Company rehearsals: $15. Single tickets for Closing Night Cocktails: $40. Patreon members at $100 level receive a full festival pass. Tickets can be purchased at www.marthagraham.org. To join the Company on Patreon, go to patreon.com/marthagrahamdance.
GrahamFest95 Schedule – All events listed in Eastern Time – Livestreams from the Martha Graham Studio Theater
Friday, April 30, 6pm – The EVE Project
Deep Song by Martha Graham, performed by Leslie Andrea Williams
Immediate Tragedy by Martha Graham, performed by Anne Souder
Spectre-1914 by Martha Graham, performed by Natasha M. Diamond Walker
Martha Graham’s Satyric Festival Song, performed by Xin Ying, artwork by Mary Heilmann (film premiere)
Treading by Elisa Monte, performed by Charlotte Landreau and Lloyd Knight
Conversation with Janet Eilber and Elisa Monte
Saturday, May 1, 1:30pm
Behind-the-scenes look at the dancers’ warm-up and rehearsal led by Senior Artistic Advisor Denise Vale
Saturday, May 1, 5pm – Past/Present
Two excerpts from Communion by Robert Cohan, performed by Laurel Dalley Smith and Lloyd Mayor
Lorenzo from Afternoon Conversations with Dancers by Robert Cohan, performed by Lorenzo Pagano
Robert Cohan’s Lloyd from Afternoon Conversations with Dancers, performed by Lloyd Knight, artwork by Rashid Johnson (film premiere)
Conversations of Lovers by Martha Graham, performed by Xin Ying and Lloyd Knight
Lamentation Variations by Kyle Abraham (performed by Lloyd Knight and Lloyd Mayor), Richard Move (performed by So Young An), and Nicolas Paul (performed by Anne O’Donnell, Anne Souder, and Leslie Andrea Williams)
Sunday, May 2, 11:30am
Behind-the-scenes look at the dancers’ warm-up and rehearsal led by leading Graham dancer Ben Schultz
Sunday, May 2, 3pm – Other Spaces
Martha Graham’s Saraband, performed by Xin Ying and Lloyd Knight, artwork by Luchita Hurtado (film premiere)
Martha Graham’s Immediate Tragedy, performed by Xin Ying, artwork by Rita Ackermann (film premiere)
My River Runs to Thee by Martha Graham, performed by Anne O’Donnell
Moon by Martha Graham, performed by So Young An and Jacob Larsen
Duet from The Auditions by Troy Schumacher, performed by Marzia Memoli and Lorenzo Pagano
Treading by Elisa Monte, performed by Charlotte Landreau and Lloyd Knight
To visit the Martha Graham Dance Company YouTube Channel, click HERE.
Written and compiled by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Leslie Andrea Williams in Martha Graham’s Spectre-1914 – Photo by Melissa Sherwood