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CLYTEMNESTRA revival - Graham CompanyDec. 9 - 10 at KennCenter, DC


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#1 Natalia

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Posted 10 December 2008 - 11:56 AM

I attended an extraordinary performance at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater last night -- the U.S. premiere of the recent revival of Martha Graham's only full-evening work, Clytemnestra (1958 premiere - not staged since 1994). The World Premiere of the restoration took place in Nicosia, Cyprus, just two months ago.

As company director Janet Eilber explained in a fascinating post-performance discussion, this revival was a monumental undertaking that took the work back to its 1950s roots in almost every sense, e.g., restoration of passages deleted over time by Ms Graham, reconstruction of the original costumes by Ms. Graham (which had been replaced by the 'lighter' Halston designs for the 1978 PBS telecast), piecing together of the score by El-Dabh (the ONLY Graham composer still alive - teaching at Kent State Univ, Ohio). The Noguchi set-pieces and props, as well as the Rosenthal lighting effects, were splendidly intact. On the other hand, Ms. Eilber and other veteran dancers involved in the revival opted to modernize the work in a couple of ways for today's audiences -- most notably the inclusion of "surtitles" above the proscenium, to announce what's-about-to-happen...and the deletion of one character, the Ghost of Clytemnestra.

The dancing by the 20-member company was beautifully expressive. Principal guest Fang Yi Sheu was terrific and gave the eerie impression of being the reincarnation of Ms Graham -- almost a twin in petite exotic looks (with high-bun hairdo) and darting moves.

The program began at 8 am with the Prologue and ended at 10:30 pm. There was one 20-minute intermission, which came at the end of Act I/sc 1, when Clytemnestra holds up the dagger, having made the decision to kill her husband, Agamemnon. After the intermission we had Act I/sc2, Act 2 and the Epilogue (trial of Orestes by Athena and Apollo). Long- long night of heavy-going Greek mythology for the typical DC audience...but I did not notice anyone leaving at the intermission, it was so gorgeous and powerful. Packed house; huge applause and cheers at the end. A truly grand event in U.S. dance, making me wonder why there was so little publicity leading up to it.

The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra played in the pit. Classical vocalists Nathan Herfindahl and Jennifer Lynn Waters served as Greek Chorus, standing on the stage, next to the front wings.


p.s. - A number of former dancers from the troupe were in the audience, having been invited to last night's opening. I recognized a number of them, including ever-youthful Mary Hickson seated close to me.

#2 papeetepatrick

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Posted 10 December 2008 - 01:04 PM

Sublime report, Natalia, and incredibly good news as well. I had planned to go down for this about a month ago, until I called up the company and found that they'd be doing it here in May--which I wouldn't even think of missing. But now that you have found the company in such remarkable shape (I found them to be at City Center in 2005 as well), I look forward to it even more. Glorious.

#3 Hans

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Posted 10 December 2008 - 02:09 PM

I wish I had known about this! Oh well, maybe they'll be back.

#4 Natalia

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Posted 10 December 2008 - 02:30 PM

I wish I had known about this! Oh well, maybe they'll be back.


They're repeating it tonight, Hans. Two-and-a-half hours before curtain. I know you're in the area. :blushing:

#5 Hans

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Posted 10 December 2008 - 02:43 PM

Hm...you're right, I might just barely be able to make it. I'll report back if I do!

Edit: I got tickets. I'll be there. :blushing:

#6 nysusan

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Posted 10 December 2008 - 07:18 PM

Thanks so much for the report, Natalia! I remember seeing Clytemnestra as a teenager. Although I was already a fan of the Graham company all I remember of Clytemnestra is that it wasn't one of my favorite pieces, and that I found the music really difficult. However my tastes have changed a great deal since then, and I bought tickets for the NY engagement as sooon as I heard about it. Very much looking forward to seeing it again, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that Shue reprises the title role in NY. I think she is an absolutely extraordinary dancer, and although I always enjoy seeing the company it hasn't been quite the same for me since she stopped appearing with them regularly a couple of seasons ago.

#7 papeetepatrick

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Posted 10 December 2008 - 07:23 PM

Susan, could you tell me if you got them through a website with tickets, etc. I had no idea they were already on sale. Are you going in spring? I couldn't find the ticket sales location. When I called them, they said nothing about tickets ready yet, and didn't know various other things, whereas they did know all about the Kennedy Center perfs.

#8 Hans

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Posted 10 December 2008 - 08:23 PM

Well, I'm back, and I loved it. This was my first time seeing Graham live, and it is extremely powerful. I expected it to be so, but the energy of the dancers really does hit you like a wall, even when they are merely posing in the background for long periods of time. The only thing I disliked was the surtitles, which I found distracting and annoying. The choreography tells the story very clearly (though it is helpful to read the synopsis) and singers narrate portions of it. More of this at the Kennedy Center, please!

#9 nysusan

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 05:36 AM

Susan, could you tell me if you got them through a website with tickets, etc. I had no idea they were already on sale. Are you going in spring? I couldn't find the ticket sales location. When I called them, they said nothing about tickets ready yet, and didn't know various other things, whereas they did know all about the Kennedy Center perfs.


They'll be at the Skirball Center May 12-16 doing a rep program and 3 performances of Clytemnestra. The Skirball is an NYU theatre in the Village that's a little bigger than the Joyce - it probably holds 900 people. Very good sightlines. I got my tix at the box office but you can also order them online , here's their website:

http://www.skirballcenter.nyu.edu/

Go to Calendar+ Performances on the top right and then scroll down on the list that pops up in the middle

Susan

#10 Natalia

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 06:51 AM

Glad that you made it to the theater, Hans, and loved it as much as I did. :)

#11 Hans

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 08:06 AM

Natalia, I'm glad you posted in time for me to get there! :)

There is a review by Sarah Kaufman in today's Washington Post.

#12 papeetepatrick

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 08:18 AM

Thanks, Susan-they're just a few blocks over from me. It's possible they didn't have them ready 6 weeks ago when I talked to them. Will do.

#13 sandik

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Posted 14 December 2008 - 01:45 PM

Wow -- keeping fingers crossed for a tour!!

In the meantime, many thanks for the great report.

#14 miliosr

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 03:24 PM

Martha Graham Dance Company
Clytemnestra (1958)
Northrop Auditorium - University of Minnesota
November 12, 2009


The Martha Graham Dance Company brought its 2008 revival production of Clytemnestra to the Northrop on Thursday night. Set to a score by Halim El-Dabh (no live orchestra/singers on the night) and told in a prologue, three acts and an epilogue, Clytemnestra is the story of the House of Atreus (Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Orestes, Electra, etc.) and its bloody self-destruction.

Going against the grain of the other posts, I have to say that Clytemnestra is a failure. To my mind, the failure is a result of Graham asking the dance to express more than the form allows. Attentive readers of my other posts will know that I've taken to not reading program notes prior to seeing narrative dance works. I do this because sometimes I think choreographers use dancegoers' preexisting familiarity with a subject matter as a crutch to make some of the stage business in their dances intelligible (i.e. Jose Limon's The Traitor, Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet) and I like to test a narrative dance to see if it's comprehensible without the aid of program notes.

Neither Limon's The Traitor nor MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet fails my little test (but there are certain events in both which only really make sense given familiarity with, respectively, the Bible and Shakespeare's play.) Graham's Clytemnestra, however, is a different fish altogether. To me, it's a cheat -- and it's a cheat because the narrative is simply incomprehensible without the help of the program notes (one-third of one 8x10" page and almost the entirety of another) or the supertitles which are projected on a screen above the stage. I defy anyone to convince me that the dance for four men and four women in the Prologue is intelligible as a recounting of the Sack of Troy without outside help. I defy anyone to convince me that the viewer can make sense of what the Night Watchman is doing at the beginning of Act 1 (lighting beacon fires to announce the fall of Troy) without outside help. I defy anyone to convince me that the point of Aegisthus' seduction of Clytemnestra in Act 2 (getting her to murder Agamemnon) can be known through their dance. (Note: Couldn't they be plotting the murder of Helen for all the trouble she has caused? The dance simply does not have the ability to impart a distinction between possible murder victims to the viewer.) I defy anyone to convince me that the viewer can make sense of Cassandra's dance in Act 2 (showing us a prophecy of Agamemnon's death) without the supertitles. (Note: In the absence of outside knowledge, the viewer might reasonably speculate that she is having some kind of seizure instead of conveying a prophecy.)

Clytemnestra goes on and on like this until it reaches the Epilogue where, ostensibly, the gods (Apollo, Athena) resolve Clytemnestra's situation in the Underworld and she achieves release. But do we really see this? I don't think so -- and the reason we don't is that Graham is asking the dance to impart very complicated information and it simply cannot do that. As annoyed as I get with the Balanchine cultists and their treatment of his every utterance as being par on with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John or the Sunnah of Muhammed, Balanchine did have a point about the dance not always being able to do the work of literature or theatre or politics.

The shame of it all is that there is some absorbing non-Clytemnestra-related dancing in Clytemnestra which shows that Graham -- contrary to received opinion -- was still creating movement of a very high quality in 1958. It's tempting to think what the Graham company's repertory would look like today if Graham hadn't continued shackling her gifts to star vehicles for herself (which artistic director Janet Eilber freely admitted to in the pre-performance talk) and, instead, choreographed exclusively for her company members from the 50s or so onward. But that, alas, was the road not taken and Clytemnestra serves as an appropriate mausoleum to the decision not made.

#15 dirac

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 05:17 PM

It's tempting to think what the Graham company's repertory would look like today if Graham hadn't continued shackling her gifts to star vehicles for herself (which artistic director Janet Eilber freely admitted to in the pre-performance talk) and, instead, choreographed exclusively for her company members from the 50s or so onward. But that, alas, was the road not taken and Clytemnestra serves as an appropriate mausoleum to the decision not made.


Thanks, miliosr, I enjoyed reading your post. Graham was always candid about making dances for herself to dance in. It may well be that for Graham the choice was not between making dances for her fading gifts or creating on other dancers, but continuing primarily to make works for herself or make no works at all.

(And she got such a relatively late start with her own company that Iím sure from her perspective her active career as a dancer was, in a way, too short.)


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