The Collegian
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Martha Graham Dance Company performs at Alice Jepson Theatre

<p>A question and answer session was held after the performance, moderated by UR Director of Dance Anne Van Gelder, with panelists Janet Eliber, Marzia Memoli and Lloyd Knight. Courtesy of UR Department of Theatre and Dance.</p>

A question and answer session was held after the performance, moderated by UR Director of Dance Anne Van Gelder, with panelists Janet Eliber, Marzia Memoli and Lloyd Knight. Courtesy of UR Department of Theatre and Dance.

The Martha Graham Dance Company performed at the University of Richmond’s Alice Jepson Theatre on March 22, showcasing three dances featuring the late Graham’s unique choreography. 

Members of the Richmond community gathered in the packed theater to watch performances of  “Rite of Spring,” “We the People” and “Maple Leaf Rag.” The dances were followed by a Q&A moderated by UR director of dance Anne Van Gelder, featuring Janet Eilber, artistic director of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance Company, and soloists Marzia Memoli and Lloyd Knight. 

“Martha Graham’s dancing and choreography exposed the depths of human emotion through movements that were sharp, angular, jagged, and direct,” the company's website says. Eilber expanded on Graham’s influence before the show, saying the contractions and harsh positions revolutionized the 20th-century dance world and led to a new genre of modern dance distinct from classical ballet. The company is nearing its 100th anniversary and continues to perform both original pieces by Graham and new choreography from a variety of modern artists. 

The first performance of the show was “The Rite of Spring,” choreographed by Graham in 1984 and is set to a dark musical score by composer Scott Joplin. According to the company, the performance is a story of a girl dubbed “the chosen one” who is forced to dance herself to death in a primal ritual. 

“The chosen one” was played by Memoli, and the dance featured Wright as the “shaman” performing the ritual. The piece displayed classic Graham techniques, as dancers in simplistic nude costumes contracted, spiraled and fell in geometric patterns across the stage. 

“We the People" was choreographed by Jamar Roberts, former director fellow at New York University’s Center for Ballet, and set to Rhiannon Giddens's score of traditional American folk music. “We the People” employed modern choreography techniques to create a piece that was visually exciting and politically relevant. 

The denim-clad dancers moved through vibrant choreography meant to protest American idealism. According to the company, the dance was both a critique and a lament of the failures of the American dream.    

Following “We the People,” the company performed “Maple Leaf Rag.” 

According to the company, “Maple Leaf Rag” was the last ballet completed by Graham before her death, and it lightly mocks the serious nature of her past work. The audience laughed as overly dramatic music, costumes and dance steps were contrasted with upbeat scores, unruly characters and comedic choreography.  

During the Q&A, an audience member asked the dancers about their introduction to dance. Memoli explained that she was enrolled in dance from a young age by her parents. She is a native of Palermo, Italy, but has danced in various locations in Europe and America. 

Knight was raised in Miami, Florida and trained at the Miami Conservatory of Ballet and the New World School of the Arts. He was first introduced to the dance world in school when a teacher noticed his talent and auditioned him, Knight said.  

Each of the three pieces featured a unique aspect of the Graham company. From the shocking and dark “Rite of Spring” to the humorous and light-hearted “Maple Leaf Rag,” the onlookers were transfixed. As the dancers took their final bows, the audience responded with a standing ovation. 

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Contact lifestyle writer Maria Byrnes at maria.byrnes@richmond.edu.

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