Tuesday, July 31, 2012

'Spring' will arrive with Martha Graham company

Charlotte will renew acquaintance with a piece of the nation's cultural heritage this winter, when UNC Charlotte hosts a visit by the Martha Graham Dance Company

The venerable group, whose founder and namesake was a pioneer of modern dance,  will perform at the Knight Theater on Jan. 18. The program will include Graham's most famous work, "Appalachian Spring."   

As far as I can find, this will be the company's first performance in Charlotte since 1981. And it apparently will be the first Charlotte performance ever of "Appalachian Spring," nearly 70 years after Graham's story of a frontier wedding had its premiere. 

This is where you can pitch in. I wrote "apparently" just now because it's hard to prove a negative -- that Graham's portrayal of a frontier wedding has never been performed here. The beloved Aaron Copland score has been performed plenty. But the ballet that goes with it?

As someone who has only been in Charlotte since 2003, I can't make any sweeping statements. But the Observer's archives have no reports of  "Appalachian Spring" ever busting out in Charlotte.  N.C. Dance Theatre has never performed it, the company says. Nor did Graham's own company do it here in 1981. (Get a load of this, though: The Observer's review says that Ovens Auditorium, with 2,500 seats, was nearly full. Give credit to the much-smaller Charlotte of 1981 for turning out.) 

So: If you remember seeing "Appalachian Spring" here, sound the alarm. Otherwise, it's about time that "Spring" arrived in Charlotte,  isn't it? 

In any case, the January performance will have the added attraction of an instrumental group playing Copland's score. Anytime dance is performed in Charlotte with live music rather than a recording, that's noteworthy. The program will also include Graham's "Imperial Gesture," a long-neglected work brought back by Kim Jones, a UNCC faculty member who used to dance in Graham's company. 

Tickets will go on sale in the fall. In the meantime, here's a snapshot of Graham in her own words. Before the company's 1981 visit, Graham -- who danced into her 70s -- told the Observer's Richard Maschal what it was like when she finally left center stage.    

'The decision (to stop dancing) made me physically ill," Graham said. "I had to retreat to the country until I made certain adjustments within myself. Someone once told me, 'Martha, you are not a goddess. You must admit your mortality.' That's difficult when you see yourself as a goddess and behave like one." 

(Photo of "Appalachian Spring": Martha Graham Dance Company)