With every signature Graham contraction, Martha Graham Dance Company principal PeiJu Chien-Pott’s power emanates from her core and ripples through her body, to the point that you start to feel your own breath stop and start with hers. Add her picture-perfect lines and classical technique, honed at the Taipei National University of the Arts, and it’s no wonder she also thrives in the company’s contemporary repertory. Originally from Taiwan, Chien-Pott joined MGDC in 2011 and has also performed with Taipei Royal Ballet, Morphoses and the New Jersey–based Nimbus Dance Works, directed by her husband, Samuel Pott. Together they have a daughter, Sofia. —Jenny Ouellette
In costume for Echo, by Adonis Foniadakis (photo by Hibbard Nash, courtesy Martha Graham Dance Company)
You’re about to start on a path of finding yourself and loving your life—a path you’ll never regret. Along the way, remember to believe in yourself. You’re a talented dancer and, if you keep working hard, you’ll become a great artist. But don’t be easily satisfied.
Great dancers challenge themselves and always push for more. Challenge is what makes you grow and become stronger.Competition, stress and injury are the three most difficult struggles you’ll face. Keep your spirits up! You’ll gradually learn how to adjust. You’re unique—just be yourself.
At age 17 (photo courtesy Peiju Chien-Pott)
I know that preparing for performances is stressful for you. Try to find simple ways to help yourself feel better. Little treats may do the trick. Keep some dark chocolate in your dance bag, and when you’re stressed, have a bite—you’ll instantly feel like you’re in heaven.
Dealing with injuries will also be frustrating. Think about it like this: Musicians take care of their instruments and painters keep their brushes in good shape. All artists have to keep their tools in good condition to produce fine work—and that includes dancers. Your tool is your body, and respecting your body is the first step in minimizing injury. It requires discipline. Eat a healthy diet and always warm up before class and rehearsal.
But most importantly, enjoy dancing and stay positive.
The signature cupped hands of the celebrants in Primitive Mysteries; the clawed hands of Medea in Cave of the Heart—“Graham hands" are unmistakable and create next-level drama. Each thrust or flick enhances Graham's larger-than-life characters. “Martha marveled over the possibilities of the hands," says Terese Capucilli, a former Martha Graham Dance Company principal dancer who trained with Graham, and was co-artistic director of the company from 2002–05. “She used hands as an extension of the expression that inhabits the body. It's a magnification of the energy that's projected from the center."
If there's one word to describe the Martha Graham Dance Company, it's iconic. From the trademark "Graham" cupped hands to the powerful movements making up her choreo, Martha Graham knew a thing or two about statements. So it's no surprise that she was as tuned into fashion as she was dance. Vogue took it a step further and decided to delve into the fashion-forward world of Graham costumes over the 90 (!) years the company has been performing. Turns out, lots of designers seem to have been influenced by the beautiful pieces worn by MGDC dancers. Below are some of our favorites, and be sure to check out the entire article (and remaining pictures!).
Vionnet's Spring 2016 show (left) and Graham (right). (Photos via Vogue)
Proenza Schouler (left) and Graham in performance (right). (Photos via Vogue)
The vision for Paul Taylor’s reimagined company, Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, becomes fully realized this month with its spring season, opening March 16 and running through April 3. Rather than its usual all-Taylor programming, the group will perform commissioned premieres by choreographers Larry Keigwin and Doug Elkins, as well as Diversion of Angels by Martha Graham and two new Taylor works, Sullivaniana and Dilly Dilly. Dancer Heather McGinley, a Paul Taylor company member since 2011, takes us behind the scenes.
Heather McGinley rehearsing Martha Graham's Diversion of Angels. (Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy Paul Taylor Dance Company)
Dance Spirit: What’s it been like working with new choreographers?
Heather McGinley: Larry Keigwin and Doug Elkins are very different—it’s been thrilling to work with them. Larry’s style is a little bit closer to what we’re used to. Doug’s is more of a departure. His choreography involves a lot of break dancing, voguing and house dancing, so we had workshops to get the feel.
DS: Has Paul Taylor been involved in rehearsals?
HM: So far, Taylor’s let the choreographers have us to themselves. He hasn’t seen the final product yet. He’s been letting Larry and Doug do their thing!
DS: As a former Martha Graham Dance Company member, what does it mean to be able to perform a Graham piece again?
HM: It’s very exciting. We’ve been taking some Graham classes to get into the style, and I’m hoping it’ll be like riding a bike! Diversion of Angels is going to be really beautiful on the Taylor Company.
DS: Are Keigwin and Elkins letting Taylor’s style influence their choreography?
HM: Absolutely. It’s not like they came in and said, “Forget everything you know, I want you to move like this.” They’re very interested in seeing what we do with the movement they’re giving us.
DS: What will audiences take away from this new season?
HM: I think they’ll feel an excitement for the future of the company. It’s only been Paul Taylor for over 60 years, so it’s a pretty big departure and a big deal.
The Martha Graham Dance Company turns 90—NINETY—this year. Like most things that have survived for the better part of a century, it has an incredibly rich history. Unlike most 90-year-olds, though, it still knows how to throw a heck of a birthday party.
What does a Graham-style anniversary celebration look like? Well, it kicked off last Thursday at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, where MGDC is performing a series of programs that include Graham classics commissioned by the Library (Appalachian Spring and Cave of the Heart among them) and a brand-new work by edgy Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg. And it'll continue later in April, during the MGDC's NYC season. (Fun fact: April 18, the day Lidberg's work will have its NYC premiere, is the exact day when, 90 years ago, Graham mounted her first concert in the Big Apple.)
In a way, Lidberg's creation, Woodland, follows in the MGDC tradition: Like many Graham works, it's a) set to a score by a mid-century composer (Irving Fine) and b) co-commissioned by the Library of Congress. But based on the glimpses of the piece that we get in a new behind-the-scenes film by Ezra Hurwitz, Lidberg is taking the Graham dancers in some interesting new directions, too. And it's thrilling to watch these fantastic artists explore a different side of their artistry. We're used to seeing them like this...
...but Lidberg shows them to us like THIS:
Watch the full video, which includes great interviews with Lidberg and MGDC artistic director Janet Eilber, below. And if you're in D.C. or NYC, get your tickets to the 90th anniversary season now. Because the only way to really experience the power of Graham is to see the Graham company live.
Stage makeup is one of those things dancers are always trying to perfect—it takes a lot of trial and error to get those pristine eyeliner wings or that perfect eyeshadow/lip combo. Luckily, the Internet is overflowing with wonderful tutorials from some of the most seasoned dancers out there, and Martha Graham Dance Company's Lloyd Knight has a very worthy addition to the mix. Knight, a principal with the company, takes us through his makeup routine, which has tons of great contouring and eye-highlighting tips (something we could all use a little help with—tiger-striped faces are never in style!). Click here to watch the tutorial!
The stunning Knight bringing the drama. (Photo by NYC Dance Project)
Ah, Independence Day. (Or as we like to call it around here, Indepen-DANCE day—it never gets old!) A whole 24 hours of hot dogs, corn on the cob, Popsicles, fireworks and red white and blue everything. Let's get this partay started!
To get us all in the spirit, here's part two of Dance Spirit's roundup of the most 'merican of Americana dance-odes.
1. Created in 1944, Martha Graham's Appalachian Spring brings us right to the heart of the American frontier, exploring the lives of two pioneer newlyweds. It's not super flashy, but add in Aaron Copland's iconic score, and it's a perfect recipe for celebrating the American dream.
Here's the Martha Graham Dance Company performing it last summer at Saratoga Performing Arts Center:
2. Agnes de Mille's Rodeo: The Courting at Burnt Ranch is also fueled by Copland's music. You might recognize his famous "Hoedown" movement in the fourth section, popularized by beef commercials in the early 1990s. (Oh, the 90s.) But the music gets me every time—it just screams America!
Here are the dancers of Colorado Ballet riding their imaginary horses in the first scene:
3. Ready for more pioneer goodness? Here's "Laurey's Dream Ballet," from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! Agnes de Mille choreographed the original Oklahoma! on Broadway in 1943, and in the clip below, you'll see the work of American Broadway darling Susan Stroman.
(A quick fyi: This is from the 1998 West End revival. I know, I know—British. Sorry. But it's also the version with Aussie Hugh Jackman, and American or not, you just can't look away...)
4. Let's fast forward a couple decades to Paul Taylor's Company B. It's set to the delightful musical stylings of the Andrews Sisters. Boogie on, bugle boy!
Here are excerpts of Miami City Ballet in the work:
5. And finally, there's a new celebration of our country's origins in town. Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, which opens on Broadway on July 13, drops us smack in the middle of the American Revolution. Is there a better way to commemorate our nation's history than with a dramatization of the founding fathers themselves? ...anyone?...anyone?... NOPE.
Look in your July/August issues for an interview with Hamilton's choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler.
Happy Fourth, y'all!
As a student at Wayne State University, Sonya Tayeh had one of those experiences that seem to change everything: She saw Martha Graham’s seminal solo, Lamentation. Fast-forward a decade or so, and Tayeh is revisiting that defining moment. Fresh off another groundbreaking season on “So You Think You Can Dance,” Tayeh was one of four choreographers chosen by the Martha Graham Dance Company to create a new addition to Lamentation Variations—a series of four-minute pieces inspired by the original.
Several other choreographers, including Larry Keigwin, Aszure Barton and Yvonne Rainer, have made their own Lamentation Variations in the past, and this year’s crop of commissioned dancemakers are Tayeh, Kyle Abraham, Michelle Dorrance and Liz Gerring. Each choreographer is given just 10 hours to complete his or her piece and must start from scratch—pre-planned ideas aren’t allowed.
Dance Spirit caught up with Tayeh to talk about her Variation, which premieres this month at the Joyce Theater in NYC.
Sonya Tayeh working with Martha Graham dancers (photo by Brigid Pierce, courtesy Martha Graham Dance Company)
Dance Spirit: Can you talk about the first time you saw Lamentation?
Sonya Tayeh: My dance history teacher Georgia Reid showed me a video in class. Seeing all the restriction, grief and constraint in the piece—along with its pounding aggression—made me cry. I felt such a visceral connection to the work and to Graham’s idea that dance should make you feel something.
DS: What are you trying to convey in your variation?
ST: This year, I’ve lost two close friends. I’ve been feeling a sense of intense anxiety about getting as much done as I can before everything ends. I’m inspired by the moment when you’re in mourning and you feel stifled, but you tear away all that constraint and say, “Enough is enough.” I see it as a Part 2 of Graham’s Lamentation—if she tore away the fabric and all that weight lifted, what would happen? It’s like being shot out of a rocket.
DS: What is the music?
ST: I’m using a piece by Meredith Monk that consists of all these crazy breathing sounds. When I watch Graham’s original, I feel myself making those kinds of sounds, like my body can’t breathe and I need air. I want my piece to feel like the dancers are out of breath from the beginning. They’re exhausted, running around, trying to get so much done. I’ve been telling the dancers to let the music drive them.
DS: Everyone fell in love with your “SYTYCD” piece for Ricky Ubeda and Jessica Richens, which used Meredith Monk’s “Vow.” What’s your connection to Monk?
ST: I’ve been a huge fan of hers forever. And when my friends passed away, I just kept listening to one of her albums with “Vow” on it. I knew I wanted to use the song for “SYT,” and the producers agreed. I was also looking for music for my Graham piece, and I wrote a letter to Meredith explaining my situation and how I’d love to use her music. She gifted me the two scores. I’d love to work directly with her one day.
DS: What’s next for you?
ST: When I moved to NYC, my plan was to start anew, pay my dues and build my voice as a concert and theater choreographer. So this project, and being mentioned in the same breath as people like Kyle Abraham and Michelle Dorrance, is amazing. I also have a crew of dancers I’ve been working with, and I’d love to get some work commissioned. I’m just really honing in on the NYC dance environment.