The Martha Graham Dance Company (MGDC) was founded in 1926 and one of Graham’s acclaimed works was titled Appalachian Spring choreographed to the amazing music by Aaron Copland. Appalachian Spring premiered on Monday, October 30, 1944 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. with Graham dancing the lead role. Graham commissioned Copland to create music with an “American Theme”. Appalachian Spring, which tells the story of a young frontier couple on their wedding day, was choreographed as the war in Europe was drawing to a close and it instantly captured the imagination of Americans who were hoping for a brighter future in a more united world.
The set for Appalachian Spring was designed by Graham’s longtime collaborator American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The rest of the cast of this historic work included modern dance notables Erick Hawkins, Merce Cunningham, May O’Donnell, Yuriko, Pearl Lang, Marjorie Mazia and Nina Fonaroff. In addition, Copland’s score later earned him a Pulitzer Prize for Music.
Appalachian Spring is laced with themes from American folk culture. Aaron Copland weaves a Shaker tune, “Simple Gifts,” throughout his luminous score, while Martha Graham’s choreography includes square dance patterns, skips and paddle turns and curtsies, even a grand right and left. The spare set by Isamu Noguchi features a Shaker rocking chair. With its tale of a new life in a new land, the dance embodies hope. Critics called Appalachian Spring “shining and joyous,” “a testimony to the simple fineness of the human spirit. ”NPR said Appalachian Spring is, “one of the milestones of the millennium … a celebration of the Americana spirit.” – The Soraya press release.
On Friday, November 19, 2021 at 8:00pm (PT), The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts will welcome the return of the to celebrate the 77th anniversary of Graham and Copland’s iconic Appalachian Spring. The company will perform the piece to live music conducted by Christopher Roundtree, Artistic Director of the music group Wild Up which The New York Times calls “irresistibly exuberant.”
The program will also include three other works. They include Immediate Tragedy, based on a “lost” ballet originally choreography by Graham in 1937 in reaction to the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, The Soraya premiered the film version of Immediate Tragedy that was inspired by found archival photos of Graham in a 1937 performance. The upcoming concert at The Soraya in November will be a newly reimagined stage version of this solo. Roundtree’s score was inspired and created from pages of music hand-written by the original composer Henry Cowell, also found in the Graham archives. Also on the program is the West Coast Premiere of Scavengers choreographed by Artistic Director, and Founder of Brooklyn-based company GALLIM, Andrea Miller to the music of multi-instrumental artist Will Epstein. Scavengers, an intimate work of four duets and one solo, had its world premiere October 26 at the Joyce Theatre. And finally Graham’s classic Diversion of Angels (1948) set to a romantic score by American composer Norman Dello Joio. This work of Graham’s took its themes from the infinite aspects of love. The Couple in Red embodies romantic love and “the ecstasy of the contraction”; the Couple in White, mature love; and the Couple in Yellow, a flirtatious and adolescent love.
Over the years, the Martha Graham Dance Company has received international acclaim from audiences in more than 50 countries throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Russia, and the Middle East. The Company has performed 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 also produced several award-winning films broadcast on PBS and around the world.
Janet Eilber was a principal dancer with the MGDC and worked directly with Graham herself. She performed many of Graham’s greatest roles, had roles created for her by Graham. Since becoming the Artistic Director of MGDC in 2005, Eilber has breathed new life into the company bringing it back to as near to its original look as possible without Graham.
Thor Steingraber, artistic director of The Soraya said, “Our digital creation of the 1937 Immediate Tragedy was inspired by Graham’s now mostly lost work about the Spanish Civil War. Graham words at the time, ‘I was upright and determined to stay upright at all costs’ were inspirational in that moment when the pandemic and Black Lives Matter were dominating the news.”
Steingraber continued, “We are proud that a new creation ‘reimagined’ by Eilber and Rountree, is entering the Graham repertory. Wild Up has been a frequent guest at The Soraya including participating in The Age of Adams, our 70th birthday celebration of John Adams, and inaugurating our intimate on-stage classical performances. And separate from The Soraya, as a result of our introductions, the Graham Company and Rountree collaborated on performances of Appalachian Spring and The Rite of Spring at Opéra National de Paris.”
The cast of dancers performing with MGDC at The Soraya include: So Young An, Alessio Crognale, Laurel Dalley Smith, Natasha M. Diamond Walker, Lloyd Knight, Jacob Larsen, Lloyd Mayor, Marzia Memoli, Anne O’Donnell, Lorenzo Pagano, Anne Souder, Richard Villaverde, Leslie Andrea Williams, and Xin Ying.
On March 19, 2022, MGDC and Wild Up will return with the world premiere of Canticle for Innocent Comedians, a work that was inspired by the themes and format of Graham’s 1952 work built around eight virtuosic vignettes that each celebrated a different aspect of nature. Due to there being a limited amount of records on this early work of Graham’ the new series of vignettes will be created by eight choreographers of diverse dance backgrounds. They are lead by Emmy and Tony award winner Sonya Tayeh; Sade and Kristina Alleyne, Juliano Nunes, Micaela Taylor, Yin Yue, and Jenn Freeman all dance artists with notable new choreographic voices. Also, Sir Robert Cohan, who danced in the original cast in 1952, created a new vignette several months before he passed away in January 2021. Moon will have the original choreography by Martha Graham.
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WHAT: Martha Graham Dance Company
WHEN: Friday, November 19, 2021 at 8PM (PT).
WHERE: The Soraya – Located on the California State University, Northridge campus at 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330-8448
TICKETS for Martha Graham Dance Company start at $41 and are available at www.thesoraya.org and by calling 818-677-3000.
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To visit the Martha Graham Dance Company website, click HERE.
To learn what other events are being presented at The Soraya please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Martha Graham Dance Company – Lloyd Knight with Leslie Andrea Williams in Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring – Photo by Melissa Sherwood