Modern Masterpieces – Martha Graham Dance Company & South Florida Symphony

                           (Photo: Lloyd Knight in Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring”                           © Hibbard Nash Photography.)

Tonight (Wednesday) is South Florida’s last chance to see a pair of choreographic and musical masterpieces performed live. The Martha Graham Dance Company, the root ensemble of modern dance, performs one of Graham’s greatest works, Appalachian Spring – accompanied by the South Florida Symphony Orchestra playing the score, Aaron Copland’s powerful ode to America (which he composed for Graham’s dance.) Though the program, Martha Graham’s Dance of Life, at the Adrienne Arsht Center, includes two other pieces, Appalachian Spring is the one to see.

There’s an aphorism attributed to the seminal ballet choreographer George Balanchine “see the music, hear the dancing.” It means that one illuminates and adds dimension to the other; the dance makes you hear the music more vividly, the music makes you see the dancing differently. (Miami City Ballet’s original artistic director, Edward Villella, used this phrase – especially in promoting a jaw-dropping single performance accompanied by the Cleveland Orchestra in 2009.) The Graham/South Florida Symphony show – or at least this piece – promises to be a modern dance illustration of that phenomenon.

The other pieces are Graham’s version of Stravinsky’s much-done (overdone) Rite of Spring, which she choreographed in 1984 at the age of 90, during her melodramatic, male-emphatic, sexy-gold-Halston-costumes phase; it got mixed reviews then and since. And the Graham troupe will also perform a recent work, Virginie Mécène’s A New Place, to music by Tom Hormel, described as focused on themes of displacement, diversity, and loneliness, as well as love and togetherness, in the big city, with a young woman protagonist.

A New Place is one of the commissions the Graham troupe been using to fill out the repertory beyond the work of their founder. They’ve been valiant and creatively diligent in doing this, though reviewers mostly find Graham’s deeply physical, architecturally and symbolically rich pieces from the 30’s through the 60’s more compelling than the new pieces. Still, the troupe is dancing beautifully (performers include New World School of the Arts graduate Lloyd Knight, in photo above) and very much alive.

A New Place
Graham 2 Company members in Virginie Mécène’s A New Place by Melissa Sherwood.

This is the first time in some 30 years that I can remember the Graham company performing in Miami (though individual dancers have appeared here.) Kudos to the South Florida Symphony for putting this program together.

Martha Graham’s Dance of Life, with the South Florida Symphony, is at 7:30pm Wednesday at the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets are $44 to $129, at arshtcenter.org. More info at southfloridasymphony.org

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