Martha @ the JCCSF – review

Martha @ the JCCSF – review

“Martha @ the JCCSF”

Richard Move as Martha Graham

March 31, 2007

Featuring Katherine Crockett as “The Company”

Guest Artists: Matthew Holland, Margaret Jenkins, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Muriel Maffre, Levi Toney

Richard Move created “Martha @” in 1996, as a kind of cabaret act/alt-dance event. Seen in a customized/Californiated version for a one-night stand in San Francisco, it is an interesting concoction, part dance history, part spoof, part dance homage, part theatre piece. Move comes out in familiar Martha Graham drag after a campy film montage (by famed videographer Charles Atlas) sets a tone of lightness and comedy that Graham herself would have abhorred. But that’s the fun of it. Move obviously adores the high priestess of modern dance about whom he has spent so many years imitating, and yet he’s perfectly comfortable lampooning her. It is a tricky balance that he pulls off well, even if the evening never builds to any particularly cohesive point of departure.

A whole generation of dancers have come and gone since Graham died in 1991, so the legacy of this American genius is well-served by Move, who uses the stage time to venerate the legend much more than to eviscerate (although she deserves that too). The speeches and film clips incorporated during the evening are taken from the source, and the spirit of Move’s mini-dances, “Frontier” and “Lamentation” also ring true, although Move is no longer the dancer he must have been in his day (when he was dancing with Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer and Karole Armitage). His cohort, the genuine Graham company dancer Katherine Crockett offers ample evidence of the twisted, contorted beauty of the Graham technique, which, although it has fallen way out of style, may be due for a revival, since no other form of dance offers an equivalent ab workout. Those deep contractions are killers!

There may seem to be no rhyme or reason to Move’s choice of guest artists (although, as MC, she/he does try to find some kind of introductory connection) but the San Francisco dancers on display offered a smorgasbord of what’s happening in dance now, at least in the Bay Area. Matthew Holand and Levi Toney performed an excerpt from a Margaret Jenkins piece, “A Slipping Glimpse” which was a rough and tumble, guy-on-guy affair, something Graham the female-centric choreographer would also have avoided. Marc Bamuthi Joseph offered spoken word performance excerpts that were as powerfully personal as they were convincingly performed. Muriel Maffre, one of the stars of the San Francisco Ballet, offered the brief but unforgettable “Dying Swan” solo.

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Santa Fe, NM
Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For culturevulture.net, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."