Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Martha Graham

Went to see Martha Graham's Dance Company in Berlin last week. Her ballets and company have an enormous reputation, and I thought it was necessary to see a performance.

It was interesting. But now that I have seen it I know I don't necessarily need to go and see it again. I realised how much modern ballet also has its own steps, much like classical ballet - but of these little was seen at the performance; clearly she has her own style. Interestingly also, the performance was not sold out and I could have saved a lot of money had I bought the left-over tickets on the day. But there we are.

The first ballet, 'Embattled Gardens', was a 1958 story about Adam and Eve, the snake and the snake's girlfriend (who, according to some interpretations of the bible story, was the first Mrs Adam). The set was like something of a 60s kindergarten, all primary colours, with a climbing frame (the tree) and a platform reminding of a trampoline or a sand pit. Perhaps this represented the innocence of Adam and Eve. However, the innocence did not last long, with both the guys going for both the girls. The snake did much 'snaking' to remind us who he was.

This was followed by scenes from 'Chronicle', an all female anti-war ballet of 1936, the year of the Berlin Olympic Games, starting with a solo dance, and later two group dances. This was good, particularly the group scenes which were quite stunning. Though nowadays all-female is a bit old hat.

Finally 'Night Journey' (1947) was the story of Jocasta, the mum of Oedipus, looking back at her life, we were told. Those of us with some experience of psychoanalysis could probably do without Oedipus.....It was confusing. I think a number of us thought that the guy in the Tarzan pants was the father of Oedipus (Laius), but in fact he was Oedipus himself. The blind seer hobbled along the stage a lot, with dramatic bangs of his stick (we thought he was Oedipus, what with being blind) and there was a nice group of women being very dramatic, but generally it was a very shorthand version of the story.

The music was fairly conventional; normally orchestral (on tape) with no experimental bits and sounds - nothing outstanding there. I wondered how the dancers felt doing these Martha Graham museum pieces (though thousands of other dancers do the Petipa museum pieces), and whether the company as such also uses other choreographers or whether they are stuck in a time warp. So it was an interesting evening, one for the record books, but it did not really set the heather alight.