new york

Martha Graham Dance Company

brooklyn academy of music

“Radical Graham,” a selection of 14 works from Martha Graham’s more than 70-year choreographic career presented over ten days, provided a savvy kickoff to the 1994 season of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Featuring a revival of the 1918 Serenata Morisca, the evening-length dance drama Clytemnestra, 1958, and her very last choreographic jewel, Maple Leaf Rag, 1990, this celebration of Graham’s oeuvre one hundred years after her birth showed the work to be every bit as complex today as it was during her lifetime.

Indeed, Graham remains forever radical. The brute sexuality that became a part of her signature is as potent as ever. Errand into the Maze, based on the story of Theseus and Ariadne, is a voluptuous illustration of the kind of sexual energy that Camille Paglia has described as the “chthonian,” something that emanates from the very entrails of the earth. This spare work begins with a single female dancer, set off by Isamu Noguchi’s orgasmic designs, who places her hands across her belly and grips her hip bones to generate a series of contractions that erupt into nothing less than convulsions. A male dancer enters as though drawn by a mysterious thread. Wildly, he dances close to her, shivering with desire, while she responds by arching her body, alternately stretching toward and away from him until the attraction proves overpowering and she leaps into his arms. With her legs wound around his waist, her pelvis at his eye level, they spin and melt to the floor. Spent and quiet, he lies face down, while she, instantly mellow, drapes herself langurously around Noguchi’s forms.

Celebration demonstrated how changes in key staging details can transform a work from 1934 into one for the ’90s. Traditionally, this piece was performed by a group of only female dancers who—their hair tightly knotted, their bodies covered in blue, mid-calf dresses—resembled a group of young novices. In the utterly modern version of Celebration presented here, eight female dancers, clad in Donna Karan’s dazzling backless costumes, were joined for the first time by five male dancers. With the same Minimalist score and 457 jumps in six minutes, Celebration looked as though it were made for today.

Maple Leaf Rag, Graham’s final work, which looks back on her life, closed the show. A tape of her voice filled a darkened stage, and was a touching tribute to her long-time collaborator, the pianist Louis Horst. “Oh Louis, play me the Maple Leaf Rag,” she says, reminding him of their earliest days in the studio together, when, exhausted from the strain of so much serious dance, she would ask him to play her favorite popular tune. A lone pianist on stage breaks into the Scott Joplin medley, and the dancers prance across the space in a parade of famous moves from her oeuvre. A woman in a long skirt, head down and turning so that the dress forms a huge circle in the air around her, crosses the stage at regular intervals, with the hilarious timing of a Buster Keaton comedy. In the final piece, Graham’s typically star-crossed, combative lovers are finally content; six embracing pairs sit on a central bar with rockers for feet, so that it is both seesaw and practice apparatus, watching a bevy of young Furies execute selections from Graham’s expressionistic choreography. It was a finale of extraordinary wisdom and wit.

RoseLee Goldberg