Whoever would have imagined the famous Martha Graham Dance Company performing this weekend in a field in east Akron in Goodyear Heights Metro Park? Apparently — and fortunately — Jane Startzman did.
Startzman, director of the Heinz Poll Dance Festival, which is being held for the sixth year in Akron this summer, said that on a whim she decided to call an acquaintance within the Graham organization just to see what they would say. As luck would have it, the Graham group was heading westward to perform this summer and, since the dates worked out, Akron became a venue. The price was right, and as Startzman noted, it’s the real company and not some second-tier knock-off group.
The Graham group has put together a program that highlights as much as it explains the role of Martha Graham, who has been credited with single-handedly changing the face of dance in America. She revolutionized the use of the human body and form in dance, influenced a slew of choreographers (among them Paul Taylor), and cranked out 181 dance creations of her own in a long and stellar 65-year career before her death in 1991.
The program, entitled “Essential Graham: Classics,” will have some narration that will “enhance” what the audience will see, as Startzman put it, rather than be some “cheesy” or smarmy paean to the queen of modern dance. The reason is simple — there is a generation of people who have never heard of Graham, nor understand the magnitude of her accomplishments. The spoken portion of the program will fill that gap.
Opening the act will be a suite of dances assembled in 2007 that traces Graham’s distinctive movement vocabulary from her early student days in 1916 in the Denishawn School.
In another nod to early modern choreographer Ted Shawn, the piece “Serenata Morisca” that was reconstructed by Graham to the music of Mario Tarenghi will be performed.
At this point things turn to quintessential Graham with her iconic “Lamentation” from 1930, which in 2007 was given new life when choreographers (under the title “Lamentation Variations”) were asked to react to the early 1930s film accompanying this article showing Graham in perhaps her most famous role. She is clad in a tube of purple jersey. The diagonals and tensions formed by the dancer’s body exude struggle with pain, as does the dancer’s face, becoming in the process the very essence of grief, as it has been described.
The final two pieces in the classic Graham vein are highlights from “Appalachian Spring” (1944), which was created in collaboration between Graham and composer Aaron Copeland (who won a Pulitzer Prize for the score), and Graham’s “Diversion of Angels” (1948), which is a dance study on facets of love (mature, erotic and adolescent). For a video sample, click here.
“Essential Graham: Classics, Martha Graham Dance Company,” during the Heinz Poll Dance Festival at Goodyear Heights Metro Park, 2077 Newton St.; 330-535-3179; www.akrondancefestival.org. Graham will perform Friday-Saturday, August 3-4, at 8:45 p.m. Admission is free.