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Honoring Saint Martha (Graham) with "Vision, Faith & Desire"

A new series mixes dance's past and present.



Martha Graham's reputation as the patron saint of modern dance rests not only on her stupendous oeuvre but also her convictions about dance. Her most influential belief, arguably, is the idea that dance has a sacramental dimension that can be regarded as an outward sign of an inward practice of vision, faith, and desire—where vision means seeing dance as a way of affirming life through movement, faith means trusting that "wherever a dancer stands, that spot is holy ground," and desire means exploring sexual tension through a contraction of the pelvis that twists the torso around a pivot point deep in the gut.

Graham's kinetic logic is the guiding principle behind "Vision, Faith & Desire," a series of showcases of work by local dance makers organized by choreographers Winifred Haun and Lizzie Leopold. The second concert in the series promises to be both more spare and more substantial than the first. Each of the six pieces shows Graham's influence: riffs on her style and technique, the incorporation of props. I was able to preview two of the pieces in rehearsal.

Haun's own company performs a version of Love Me Not, originally choreographed by Randy Duncan for Haun in the 80s. Adapted here for a younger dancer, the solo is still full of lonely strength—a common theme in Graham's work. On a chair that serves as a placeholder for a man who's jilted her, a female dancer dips and swoons with the loopiness of a spider suffering from vertigo. When her eyes aren't closed the intensity of her stare is seductive. Tormented by unrequited love, maddened by spite, she bewitches herself into a figure of repulsion: a toad.

The Last Messenger, a new trio by David von Ehrlicher, was created under the guidance of Paul Sansardo, a former Graham Company dancer. "She taught us how to be ourselves," Sansardo says of Graham, "and she taught us how to be immediate." His dancers have evidently mastered immediacy. No sooner does von Ehrlicher enter as Hermes, two bones clutched in each fist representing two spirits that he must guide to the River Styx, then he begins spinning and vaulting like a goat, hunching over and snaking his arms crazily above his head until they're no longer arms but sinuous airborne lines, riled and faintly evil. He resembles Hermes's heraldic symbol: two snakes wrapped around a staff that illustrates his capacity to intervene between sparring mortals.

Christina Eltvedt, as the Fury Vengeance, has fingers forked like fire, and stupendous gusto. Doing a grapevine shuffle across the stage, arms tightly crossed, forehead tucked to her chest, she conjures one of the most striking portraits of blind rage I've ever seen.

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