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The Martha Graham Dance Company in London:  Thoughts on the Panel Discussions

seraphic dialogueNovember 2003

Page 2 of 2

Ian Bramley, the chair for the Laban Centre panel, provided questions for the panelists to steer the discussion - questions entailing the uniqueness of Graham technique, the effects of studying other techniques while embodying Graham movement, the effect of alternative contexts of practice, its contemporary-ness, relevance to current audiences, and, given the trends at present in popular and postmodernist dance practice, the place of the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Graham technique.

To summarise, the uniqueness, affect, contemporary-ness and place of the Martha Graham Dance Company and Graham technique lies in its particular exploration in the potentiality of human movement. There are not many established dance techniques that through a designed movement vocabulary refines such a multiplicity of dynamic concepts and modulations like Graham. There are not many dance techniques that provide an extensive concentration of approaches to the relationship between skeletal and muscular use in the back three dimensionally. There are not many dance techniques that facilitate direct development of deep core stability through the concepts of breathing, contraction and release while actually moving through space.

The place of Graham technique in Britain is tenuous. Although the Graham technique is offered at Laban Centre, Rambert School, and Northern School of Contemporary Dance there are still controversies about its place in current dance training; there is a concern that perhaps the embodied knowledge it seeks to instill is no longer significant or relevant. Captivated by Martha Graham and her company and encouraged by Marie Rambert, Robin Howard initiated a process in 1963 for selected British dancers to study in New York at the Graham School. MGDC members have taught in Britain and Robert Cohan member of the MGDC from 1946-1969 became the artistic director of London Contemporary Dance Company bringing with him the Graham technique, Graham repertory and Graham ways of making dance of that generation.

With the late Jane Dudley on the faculty of London School of Contemporary Dance, and those few British dancers who studied for short periods in America, Graham technique and repertory of the late 60's became what Britain understood as Graham aesthetic. Martha Graham though continued to evolve her choreographic expressions and the technique already an autonomous entity by 1954 continued to evolve and alter in an American context that questioned and pushed the science of Graham physicality infusing it with the biomechanical knowledge and the virtuosi exploration exhibited in American dance making of the late 70's through to the 90's. The performance of Graham's early 30's and 40's work in the 90's performed in Britain at the Edinburgh Festival and later at the Barbican gave rise to new interest in the diversity of Graham's repertory but had no real effect on the value of studying Graham technique in Britain.

night journeyAt Laban, Sentler and Bannerman's historical project provides students an experience through the Graham aesthetic that enriches their education as dance artists. The study of Graham aesthetic is not to facilitate entrance into the Company. The study of the Graham aesthetic is a means for them to embody a way of working to accompany the various other ways of dance making they will learn at Laban. The reputation of the Graham Company and the Graham technique is still respected by those who believe in its benefits. Those practitioners who believe in the efficacy of the Graham aesthetic affirm that it is a beneficial addition to the palette of ways of knowing dance today's dancer would prefect. Most importantly, Graham technique provides a way of working that can be used to sustain the professional dancer of today. From a palette of different expressions dancers benefit immensely from the kinds of explorations in physically the Graham technique offers.

If one can say the Graham Technique was established by at least 1954, one can also say that this was the time when Graham style separated from Graham technique. Graham technique is an autonomous entity taught in varying contexts all over the world. Its delivery though in any given context is an unpredictable variable. The outcome of study in the Graham technique is dictated by the context of its practice. It is hoped that Graham practitioners will seek verification or rejuvenation of their individual practise through access to the Martha Graham Resource repository. The ability of a given practitioner to maintain Graham aesthetic integrity while evolving altered ways to practise dance is the future of Graham technique. How it is taught in the Martha Graham School will be different from how it is taught at the Laban Centre. As long as there is access to the repository and a connection to the legacy of Martha Graham these different contexts of practice remain legitimatised institutions for the study of Graham technique in the future.

Is there the possibility of new work for the Graham Company? There is a vision that those choreographers who have a vested lineage with the work of Martha Graham or has similar aesthetic characteristics and sense of theatricality are the choreographers that may be asked to work with the company. There is also the intention for Music Director Aaron Sherber to bring back a collaborative feeling between The Martha Graham Dance Company and composers of the present. The Martha Graham Dance Company will not however become a rep company. The Repertory of Martha Graham will always be at the forefront of the present and future artistic vision. Getting as many of the dances researched and performed in the flesh before the elder generations of Graham's dancers can no longer relay their embodied knowledge is numbered among the many priorities set before the present artistic directors.

How will the Martha Graham Dance Company to foster its significance in the current global context? All panel members and indeed most audience members agreed the Graham aesthetic must remain in the flesh, a living breathing entity. Keeping the Graham movement vocabulary fresh so audiences can see the art in the flesh is how the vision will be sustained. There will in time be a teacher's course and the license of Graham's work is also available. As long as the dancers continue to dance and the present artistic directors remain articulate in Martha's vision the repertory will vary but remain true to the aesthetic. As long as the archives contained in the Martha Graham Resources sustain the Martha Graham Dance Company the legacy will be saved.

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Edited by Jeff

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