The A-list of New York City's dance community came out in full force, not to mention glam attire, for the 2012 Martha Graham Gala at City Center on the evening of March 14th. Guest artist Diana Vishneva was the big name draw, but the rest of the dancers more than held their own during the brief but dazzling mixed bill that featured some of Graham's greatest works. What a joy to see this company, a true artistic treasure, looking so polished and exuberant after being saved not long ago from the brink of extinction. As I posted on DanceArt.com in March of 2006: "A protracted legal battle between the Martha Graham School and Company and Graham's personal heir nearly resulted in the loss of this great institution and the historic dances created by Graham. Once again, though, the dancers won. The Center is now directed by Janet Eilber, a former colleague of mine at Interlochen. She has had a stellar career that included performing many of Graham's own roles with the company."
Janet was on hand at City Center to give a curtain speech. As always, she took the opportunity to talk about the history of the dances we were about to see, peppered with some personal anecdotes and insider information. She once told me that the reason she does this is that research shows that most audience members don't read the program notes and she wants to be sure the legacy of her larger-than-life mentor is effectively disseminated. I applaud her for that and for her poised delivery of interesting commentary.
As for the dancing, Vishneva in "Errand Into the Maze" was amazing. That word is overused, especially in the dance world, but it's such a spot-on adjective for the international superstar's performance of one of Graham's signature roles that I can't help but make it my choice here. Vishneva's mastery of the Graham contractions is magnificent and she made them seem not at all gratuitous but truly communicative of profound emotions. Her partner, the strong and expressive Abdiel Jacobsen, was superb as well in his role as the Minotaur.
The other guest artist for the evening, Fang Yi Sheu, is a former Graham Company member and the award-winning founder of Fang Yi Sheu and Artists. She danced the lead in "Chronicle" with commanding presence and impressive execution of the trademark skirt work involved in the choreography.
Of the rest of the artists, one of my favorites was Miki Orihara as the giddy bride in the duet from "Appalachian Spring." The audience drew in a collective gasp of astonishment when Janet reminded us after the excerpt that Miki has been with the company for 25 years. She is truly an age-defying marvel. I was also taken with Xiaochuan Xie and Lloyd Knight as the Couple in Yellow in "Diversion of Angels." Yet everyone who performed deserves kudos. How wonderful to hear Janet tell us about the robust 86th season with bookings and tours around the world. Congratulations to all, and "merde" as you head into what promises to be an even bigger and better season 87.