Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 28, 2023

Review: UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center, "Martha Graham Dance Company"

University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
March 25, 2023
by Suzanne Wells

Even if one does not fully understand the abstract nuances of modern dance, the power and fluid grace of a Martha Graham Dance Company production is an experience to be appreciated. Presenting one and 1/8th of Martha Graham’s original choreographies, the Company returned to UMass for the first time in seven years to perform “Canticle for Innocent Comedians” along with highlights of the “Dark Meadow Suite,” and the debut of “Get Up, My Daughter.”

"The Canticle..." is a representation of nature. Eight vignettes representing the Sun, Earth, Wind, Water, Fire, Moon, Stars, and Death/Rebirth effortlessly flow one into the next. Originally choreographed by Martha Graham in 1952, inspired by a 1938 poem of the same name by Ben Belitt, the work has all been lost with the exception of Moon. The remaining vignettes, each choreographed individually by Sonya Tayeh, Alleyne Dance, Sir Robert Cohan, Juliano Nunes, Yue Yin, Micaela Taylor, and Jenn Freeman, incorporate the technically precise, natural movements for which Graham was known. The production is a remarkable display of the human body’s ability to move individually, as well as a melding of multiple bodies evoking images of the Hindu gods for creation and destruction, Brahma and Shiva. 

"The Dark Meadow Suite," also choreographed by Graham, was inspired by her study of Native American rituals. The dance is made up of tribal steps, with hints of kabuki and flamenco influences, as well as percussive sounds with the stamping of feet and the beating of thighs. Impressive for the strength and endurance required to produce and maintain the various poses, this dance is a sensual exploration to identify with oneself, one’s lover, and one’s community.

The debut of "Get Up, My Daughter," choreographed by Annie Rigney, was the unexpected highlight of the evening for both the audience and the performers, who literally finished the production hours before the curtain opened. This frenzied, passionate display of the universal struggle of woman to overcome hardship and prosper despite being shackled by themselves, and the men and women in their lives, is both historically disheartening and imminently optimistic.