VAIL — When the impact of a dance company’s namesake on modern dance is compared to that of Pablo Picasso’s on painting and Frank Lloyd Wright’s on architecture, it’s not surprising that many audiences arrive to a performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company expecting a pleasant little educational experience on the history of modern dance. What is surprising is that the experience is actually strikingly contemporary.
“Our audiences are often surprised at how exciting, vigorous and gorgeous our performances are,” said Simona Ferrara, the company’s mangager, via email. “I think sometimes they come expecting to see something that will be ‘good for them’ — culturally important but dull. They are amazed and thrilled when we knock their socks off.”
Vail’s dance fans can look forward to having their socks knocked off by the Martha Graham Dance Company tonight when company dancers take the stage at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater during the Vail International Dance Festival in the company’s only performance for the festival this season.
The program will open with one of Graham’s masterworks, “Diversion of Angels.”
“This Graham classic is all about love — you can see the phrases ‘falling in love’ and ‘head over heels in love’ brought to life,” Ferrara said.
This will be followed by “Errand,” a new arrangement of Graham’s “Errand into the Maze” by Luca Veggetti.
“When our sets and costumes were damaged in Hurricane Sandy, Luca designed this version to feature the classic choreography in a new setting,” Ferrara said.
Following intermission, they’ll perform the world premiere of “At Summer’s Full,” a new arrangement of Graham’s 1940 classic “Letter to the World.” New York City Ballet principals Tiler Peck and Robbie Fairchild and festival artist-in-residence Herman Cornejo will join eight Graham Company members on stage for the performance. They’ll close the program with “Echo” by Andonis Foniadakis.
The evening’s repertory is a collection of works that, together, perfectly represent how the company honors Graham’s legacy both by reconstructing and performing her classics and by continuing to push boundaries with new works.
“Since 2005, the Graham Company has been experimenting with new forms of presenting our Graham masterworks — offering fresh and sometimes unusual ways to view our work,” Ferrara said. “Probably the most important aspect to this is the commissioning of new dance that frames and is framed by the Graham classics. We found that we can arrange a terrific resonance between the masterworks and new creations that increases the appreciation of both.”
“Echo,” which premiered in March, is one of those new works and was inspired by the Greek myth of Narcissus and Echo; Graham herself often drew inspiration from Greek mythology. “Echo” shows Andonis Foniadakis’ interpretation of this particular legend through a breathtaking flurry of passionate, mesmerizing movements.
“At Summer’s Full” is another perfect example of how the company is evolving and refreshing its repertory for the 21st century.
“Our new arrangement of selections from ‘Letter to the World’ is an example of our experiments in creative curation,” Ferrara said. “It’s impractical for us to tour with the complete ‘Letter to the World.’ It’s almost an hour long and has a fairly large onstage set. But it is filled with gorgeous choreography that we wanted to share with audiences. So, ‘At Summer’s Full’ is a sampler of this classic choreography that allows us to get it out there. The selections are each about love or love lost, so it is not a mini version with the range of original, rather one theme has been excerpted.”
In all, the Graham Company promises a program that is a fantastic balance of past and present. Yes, there are lessons in culture and history, but they are vibrant and alive on stage in front of you, remembering the past and turning it into something that is relevant, and even groundbreaking, in the present.
“Martha Graham drove this company forward with her constant creative energy,” Ferrara said. “She had, as she said, ‘an appetite for the new.’ And she was always working on a new idea. So our current vision, to present brand new work beside the Graham classics, is born out of the historic approach in a way. It’s just that the new work is no longer by Martha.”