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The Buzz, 1-24: The tears of a clown
For next Graham Company NY season, only half the works are by Martha Graham

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2012 Paul Ben-Itzak

Imagine if the Picasso Museum in Paris suddenly decided to place half the works by Picasso in temporary storage and replace them with work by other artists. There would be an outrage. And yet this is exactly what the current custodians of the Martha Graham Dance Company are doing for the company's upcoming New York season this March at the Joyce Theater. But where is the outrage?

The under-estimation of the Martha Graham oeuvre by the current artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, former Graham dancer Janet Eilber, continues with the troupe's spring New York season, in which only half of the eight works being presented are actually by Martha Graham, the others being by two Graham contemporaries, Mary Wigman and Anna Sokolow, one post-modern choreographer whose raison d'etre was to rebel against exactly the type of presentational dance represented by both classical ballet and Graham, Yvonne Rainer, and one decidedly inferior contemporary ballet choreographer, Lar Lubovitch. Each of the two programs being presented at the Joyce Theater March 13-18 will include two Graham works and two pieces by the other choreographers, the Graham ballets being "Night Journey," "Every Soul is a Circus," "Deaths and Entrances," and "Chronicle." Eilber also apparently continues to feel it necessary to explain the greatest modern choreographer of the 20th century with "contextual media and narration," according to the company's press release.

Eilber apparently sees such steps as necessary to make the work of Martha Graham more accessible to a broader audience. What a gross misunderstanding of Martha Graham's transcending influence on the culture! Graham was one of the few 20th-century American modern dance choreographers whose message consistently stretched beyond the often insular walls of modern dance to reach a broader cultural, theatrical, literary and intellectual audience, precisely because as opposed to being self-involved in her own body and pre-occupations, her mission was not just to construct a new dance technique and vocabulary, but to use the dancing body to explore the terrains of history, literature, mythology and the psyche which affect us all. (Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor, and others certainly appealed to an audience beyond the immediate dance world, but not with the intellectual heft and literary depth of Graham.) Her technique may have centered on the contraction, but her artistic influences were all about expansion. So by making Martha split time with lesser choreographers -- and thus reducing the quotient of Graham work on each program to a thin two ballets -- Eilber is in fact diluting the potency of the performances and their potential to reach a wider audience.

People come to the Picasso Museum to see the work of Pablo Picasso. People paying up to $59 to see the Martha Graham Dance Company deserve to see the work of Martha Graham. More important -- for posterity -- to remain vital (which is theoretically Eilber's goal, even if her tactic of explaining the work is misguided), the work of Martha Graham needs to be aired out, taught, rehearsed, and performed. And the greatest Modern choreographer of the 20th century should not have to share the stage with lesser dance-makers of more limited and constricted vision.

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