A modern dance troupe finds its own voice while evoking the spirit of Martha Graham
By Joel Benjamin
Forget about the Martha Graham Dance Company. The keeper of the Graham flame is, and always has been, Jacqulyn Buglisi whose Buglisi Dance Theatre just finished up a too-short season at the Ailey Citygroup Theater. Her works hew closely to the Graham aesthetic of intensity, theatricality and expressive movement, yet speak in their own version of this language, a dialect shared by her guest choreographers and her wonderful, strong dancers.
The program, which was dedicated to the memory of Dudley Williams and Kazuko Hirabayashi, opened with a video tribute to Terese Capucilli, produced by Bill Randolph, which showed Capucilli in many roles, dancing with conviction and style. One of the founders of Buglisi Dance Theatre, Ms. Capucilli has had long and rich career as a dancer, choreographer and teacher.
“Lamentation,” Graham’s metaphor for grief, first seen in 1930, has been parodied (Streisand’s Funny Lady) and studied (the ongoing “Lamenation Variations” of the Graham troupe), but seeing the original danced by the excellent Christine Dakin to the Kodály piano score (played live by Brian Zeger), proved that it is, indeed, a minor masterpiece. The simple bench and the tube of stretchy jersey material were used by Ms. Dakin with consummate skill to communicate sadness and longing.
Another Graham solo, “Deep Song,” from 1937 (reconstructed by Martha Graham and Ms. Capucilli) was performed by Blakeley White-McGuire who took this artist’s reaction to the Spanish Civil War, her “Guernica,” and made it her own. Dressed in a figure-hugging black and white dress, Ms. White-McGuire stretched out on a long bench which variously became a resting place, a shelter from bombs and a symbolic cross bringing to mind Christian imagery. In just a few minutes Graham summarized the terror of war.
The only other non-Buglisi work on the program was the male solo, “Prelude,” choreographed by Donlin Foreman to dark music by Gerald Finzi. Danced by Ari Mayzick, dressed in A. Christina Giannini’s decorated red tights, “Prelude” was a study in contemplation made physical, full of deep back bends contrasted with high leg lifts and quick, cantilevered turns. Mr. Mayzick is skilled and handsome and made the most of the short work.
Ms. Buglisi’s “Sospiri” is a duet choreographed to music by Elgar. So Young An and Kevin Predmore took on this sad couple, in period outfits designed by Ms. Giannini. Beginning with what sounded like gunshots, the two bent over suddenly and fell to the ground. The subsequent, achingly sad duet, showed a couple who could never quite get together, often performing unison movements parallel to each other. They yearn for each other, their embraces becoming distorted lifts. Beseeching gestures led to soft frustrating runs in all directions. Even when they rolled across the stage in an embrace, it ended awkwardly. This portrait of love gone wrong was well crafted and well danced.
“Sand,” to a Philip Glass score was Ms. Buglisi’s opportunity to choreograph for four distinct couples: Ms. Young An/Jason Jordon, Stephanie Van Dooren-Eshkenazi/Mr. Mayzick, Anne O’Donnell/Lloyd Knight and Lauren Jaeger/Jesse Obremski. In layered costumes by Ms. Giannini, mostly light brown, the women skittered while the men leapt among them to Glass’s unrelenting music. The skittering step, in second position became a recurring theme. There also was much unison dancing, including the women leaning against the men and being lifted. Each couple had a highlighted bit, but was absorbed back into the group which formed circles before separating again into couples. The overall effect was of constantly windblown sand, no strong emotions, but pleasant to watch.
Buglisi’s world premiere, “To the Spirit of Enheduanna” was dedicated to the first female author who lived in 2285 B.C. The four women—Ms. An, Ms. Jaeger, Ms. O’Donnell and Leslie Andrea Williams—in artfully ragged costumes by Elena Comendador, danced to Aziza Mustafa Zadeh’s Middle Eastern sounding music. The movements, beautifully lit by Judith Daitsman, conjured a hybrid of classic Indian dance forms and modern dance. These four women were having a conversation and a celebration.
The final work was Ms. Buglisi’s masterpiece, “Requiem,” to a Fauré score. Four women, isolated on cube-shaped seats did very little but rise up and dip down wearing long, intricately layered gowns designed by Ms. Buglisi and Ms. Giannini. These gowns became everything from formal wear to capes to restrictive garments as the women floated about the stage only to return to their seats. These cubes served as pedestals and private places in which to mourn. The sense of mourning and sadness was overwhelming and permeated the work, but “Requiem” also was beautiful and calm, a microcosm of feminine emotion. Using minimal movement and the subtlest of gestures, Ms. Buglisi evoked this community of women joining forces in reaction to some indefinite sadness. Somehow the minimal, almost static choreography was far more expressive for its simplicity. It is up there with “Lamentation” as a distillation of melancholy.
Buglisi Dance Theatre
Ailey Citygroup Theater
405 West 55th Street, at Ninth Avenue New York, NY
For tickets and information, call 800-838-3006 ext. 1 or visit www.buglisidance.org