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Martha Graham turns 117 years old and Fine Arts Center celebrates.

Author The Gazette. Published on May 21, 2011 - 3:27 am (2281 views — 402 words)

The Fine Arts Center kicked off its 75th anniversary celebration Tuesday night with a powerhouse appearance by the Martha Graham Dance Company.

The house was full. So were the first-come folding chairs at the back of the SaGaJi Theatre. More important than bodies, though, was the palpable excitement coursing through hall. This was an event with a capital "E" and every person in that room likely knew at least one person who wanted to be there but were too slow reserving tickets.

Graham, already a revolutionary dancer and choreographer when she christened that stage in 1936, puzzled The Gazette reviewer with her barefoot soliloquy to grief, "Lamentation," and other works. And the impact of her vision hasn't lessened one bit. They are just as breathtaking, electric and yes, puzzling, as they were when she made them.

The first half explored a handful of suites from "Dance is a Weapon," which collaged the vision of multiple artists -- including Isadora Duncan, Eve Gentry and Sophie Maslow. The most powerful works were "Time is Money," which borrowed from the very modernist attraction to words over music and "Steps in the Street" and "Prelude to Action," which sidestepped narrative in favor of raw emotion and political subtext.

The dancers were admirably precise and inevitably elegant, as if each tiny gesture were triggered by a cog and an arm and a key turned in a vast corporeal machine.

In the second half, the company replayed the emblematic work "Lamentation," this time through the eyes of three young choreographers. Called "Lamentation Variations," the works took the theme to sometimes more playful, more intimate and even more overtly narrative places." "Move Variations," which featured Katherine Crockett, was Graham stark but with dappled light and less declarative modern feel. Likewise, the "Keigwin Variation," which saw the full company not only embodying grief as Graham had intended, but living it in every angular jab, every clenched fist and thrust chest, every nervous, defiant slide.

Finally, artistic director Janet Eilber narrated a sampling from Graham's great collaboration with composer Aaron Copland, "Appalachian Springs." In it, she sought to portray an essential American-ness of Big Sky country and the pioneers and dreamers who made it home.

It is unmistakably modern, but in contrast with the other works, "Appalachian Spring" radiated a rosy, raw boned glow. Not nostalgic, although it might inspire nostalgia, but sturdy and honest, just as Graham saw America itself.