There is always someone who shakes up the accepted norms of any art form – not satisfied with the status quo, and desiring to create something unique that sets the standard for years to come.
With dance, that revolutionary was Martha Graham. In the early 20th century, she revolted against the mold of classical ballet to create something boundary-pushing and expressive that continues to influence modern dance.
On March 1, Augustans will have the chance to view and become immersed in modern dance through performances by the Martha Graham Dance Company at 7 p.m. at the Imperial Theatre. The performances are presented by the Augusta Ballet.
Tickets cost $20-$75 by calling (706) 722-8341 or going online at www.augustaballet.org/marthagraham.html.
“Deciding to present the Martha Graham Dance Company was not a difficult decision,” said Angela Stroman, the executive director of the Augusta Ballet. “They are comprised of some of the most talented dancers in the industry and have lived up to their company’s reputation year after year.
“This will be the company’s first ever performance in Augusta. It will be such a significant event in our community, and we are honored to be the ones to host them.”
The development of modern dance was a reaction to classical ballet, Stroman said.
“Where classical ballet is technical and precise, modern dance is expressive and emotional,” she said. “Modern dance defies the limitations set by classical technique and allows the dancer’s own interpretations to shine through.”
Graham, often called “the mother of modern dance,” came onto the dance scene in the early 20th century at a time when America was emerging as a world power after World War I – a time when artists, architects and musicians were creating art forms that were uniquely American, said Janet Eilber, the artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company.
“She took on American athleticism and took on our country’s personality, the sociopolitical issues we were dealing with, and captured our physicality in this new style of dancing,” Eilber said. “She created a new dance language that expressed real human emotions, as opposed to other forms that are escapist.
“She really wanted to use the art form to make change and connect with the issues of today.”
THE DANCE COMPANY, performing five dances illustrating Graham’s genius, will begin with a multimedia overview connecting five dances – Prelude and Revolt: Denishawn to Graham, which traces her beginnings.
“The audience will see some of the style of dance she studied, emerged out of and rejected,” Eilber said.
One dance the company will perform is Graham’s 1930 iconic solo, Lamentation, which turned the dance world on its ear, the artistic director said. Lamentation is performed in an entirely seated position, with the dancer in a tube of purple jersey.
The movements and tensions – showing a struggling within the material, presents a view of grief.
The Prelude and Revolt segment will conclude with Conversation of Lovers, a 1981 dance exploring the ties between lovers.
“(It) shows her evolution and connects in a way back to her early roots – and it’s a glorious duet,” Eilber said.
Following Prelude and Revolt, the company will perform Appalachian Spring, one of Graham’s most beloved dances – combined with the narration of letters from Graham to Aaron Copland, the musical composer who collaborated with Graham.
“So you will hear the words that she sent to (Copland), for example, (discussing) the solo of the bride, and that it should ‘have an electric eagerness about it,’ ” Eilber explained. “You’ll hear the music he wrote – which does have an ‘electric eagerness’ about it.
“It’s a great piece of American legacy, her legacy and our beautiful 21st century dancers who make it so alive and present.”
The dance company’s performances also will include 1947’s Errand into the Maze, based on the Greek myth of Theseus battling the Minotaur, and 1958’s Embattled Garden, a contemporary take on temptation using the characters of Adam, Eve, Lilith and the serpent.
Although audiences in Augusta might not be familiar with Graham’s work – or modern dance at all – the performances will feature narration and multimedia to introduce Graham’s work.
“They’ll recognize America,” Eilber said. “Martha Graham captured America in her work, and they’ll recognize themselves.”
On Friday, Feb. 28, the dance company will hold master classes, available to intermediate to advanced dancers in metro Augusta, according to Stroman. The cost is $25 per class, with classes free to students of John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School and the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.
The classes will be held at 4 and 5:30 p.m. at Davidson, 615 12th St. Call (706) 261-0555 or visit augustaballet.org to register.
“Master classes will focus on Graham technique straight from those who know it best,” Stroman said. “Frankly, it would be a great understatement to say that this experience would otherwise be a difficult one to come by.”