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The Graham Residency at Laban
November, 2003 --
Iím currently in the 3rd year of my BA (Hons) Dance Theatre and didnít
attend Graham classes before I came to Laban. In this Residency I had
the pleasure of experiencing different teachers including Miki Orihara
from the Martha Graham Dance Company and Susan Sentler from Laban. As
the availability of Graham classes is greatly reduced in this country,
Laban is the only institution offering classes consistently, which is
why Ms Sentler is one of the foremost representatives of Graham technique
in the U.K.
My personal interest in
Graham was encouraged by a 2-week workshop with Ethel Winter that I attended
in summer 2003 in Switzerland. Her way of teaching is similar to Mikiís
and made me realize that the basic principles of the technique assist
me in developing the skills necessary to be a dancer working within a
styles or techniques. This notion was reinforced during the Residency.
The upper level classes with Miki began with basic floor work and she
took a lot of time to explain the basic principles like spiral and contraction.
She used much imagery and didnít hesitate to use unusual forms of demonstration
to get points across, alongside her extraordinary skills as a dancer.
For example, she had us stand in a half circle to facilitate the visualization
of a hip movement and later asked to be supported to illustrate positions
as they happen in the air. She also made references to ballet, which drew
attention to some similar aims of the techniques, such as the importance
of the use of turn out as a functional rather than an aesthetic element.
The other students and I found
her hands on corrections very helpful - so often this method is clearer
than any words. Generally her profound understanding of the work was underpinned
by anatomical knowledge and a belief in finding things within the individual
body, a necessity that was also mentioned in the panel discussion. This
is also an aim in Susan Sentlerís classes but on top of that Miki emphasises
attack in the movements. Some consider this an aspect of style rather
than technique, but I believe this tension and energy is inherent in Graham
movement and gives it a particular quality of surprise and urgency.
In the second part of the class Miki gave us a taster of what the technique
is striving for. We did quite Ďadventurousí exercises like various falls
and pitch turns, which were challenging but exciting. Here the emphasis
w as on risk, you gather up the energy and then just go.
The culmination of this Graham experience for me was the repertoire session
where we performed the opening dance of ďNight JourneyĒ in which emotional
content and expression are emphasized, as the movementís inherent purpose
is to tell a story. Although for many contemporary dancers that seems
to be an outdated
concept, to learn repertoire helps to make sense of the technique as a
whole, which developed as a by-product to Grahamís choreography.
Many people in my year feel that Graham is not necessary for their training,
even some that enjoy the classes. But in the end demands for versatility
are increasing which means practising a technique as specific as Graham
can in this respect only be beneficial. Further, learning more about the
context and issues surrounding Graham helped me understand why and how
certain movements are practised. The awareness to differentiate between
what is functional and what belongs more to the specific realm of style
makes it easier to apply this specific training to all my dancing.
The classes together with the discussion helped me to gain a sharper focus
concerning the technique by recognizing the underlying principles that
connect it with Cunningham or Ballet and also to appreciate the specific
skills Graham has to offer. I agree with Miki that Graham technique has
been successful in training the dance body for a long time and by emphasising
the anatomical functionality it can be taught in a way that it feels Ďco-productiveí
with the other techniques. What I appreciate about the technique especially
as a dancer is that it snaps you
into focus because it has a certain edge. Personally I think that while
release technique creates malleable artists, Graham emphasizes performance
and projection, which remain important assets for a dancer. In addition,
I appreciate the need to learn the discipline from within and make it
work on my own body instead of trying to merely imitate shapes and this
understanding was greatly facilitated by Mikiís teaching in the Residency.
Edited by Stuart
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