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Martha Graham Dance Company brings 19 poses to UNC to celebrate the 19th Amendment


In the art space at CURRENT, Martha Graham dancers will take turns performing the solo piece "Lamentation." Photo courtesy of Ramsay de Give.

In celebrating the near-centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, Martha Graham Dance Company is taking over the CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio on Franklin Street from Sept. 27 to 29 to welcome students and the community in embodying female empowerment as part of the 2019-2020 Carolina Performing Arts season. 

Martha Graham was an artistic icon who revolutionized the Graham Technique of modern dance. Graham created 181 works over 70 years, and though she died in 1991, her technique is still practiced by dancers in the Martha Graham Dance Company. 

The Martha Graham Dance Company has performed in Memorial Hall almost every year since the 2012-2013 season at Carolina Performing Arts, but this year they are aiming to collaborate with the community and showcase the power of dance with a spirit of improvisation. 

Graham dancers will be the first to fully “take over” the entirety of the CURRENTArtSpace. Tickets are $14, or $10 for students, and will grant a two hour entry into the space which includes the ArtSpace and Studio. 

The Studio will be a collaborative space for dancers to teach 19 power poses to those interested in becoming physically invested in the appraisal of feminine empowerment. 

These 19 power poses are a part of the company’s two year EVE Project. This two year initiative aims to convey the past and present power of the feminine. 

“I feel so fortunate that every year the Graham company celebrates women,” said Anne Souder, a dancer in the company. “This two-year initiative of the EVE Project embodies an even bigger celebration of women.” 

The project tasked Artistic Director Janet Eilber with sifting through hours of archival videos and select 19 power poses created through Martha Graham’s choreography. 

“The whole idea is to explore Martha Graham’s work and also to let any and everyone embody these 19 women of fortitude as we celebrate the Nineteenth Amendment,” said Amy Russell, director of programming for Carolina Performing Arts. 

Christina Rodriguez, associate director of marketing and communications for CPA, said dance knowledge isn’t required or expected, rather the takeover can involve anyone interested in learning powerful poses, many of which are accessible from the waist up. 

“This takeover is meant to be super fun and relaxed but also informative,” Rodriguez said. “It is an engaging and empowering way to embody this choreography.” 

In the CURRENT ArtSpace, Graham dancers will take turns performing the solo piece "Lamentation." A new showing of the dance will occur every 15 minutes and each will be slightly unique as it includes improvisation to fully capture one’s own embodiment of grief. 

“Martha Graham didn’t say ‘Act sad and then dance sad,’ she choreographed motions that made you feel those emotions,” Souder said. 

Artist and technologist Tyler Henry worked with Martha Graham Dance Company during the company's two-week residency with Google to forge past and present presentations of "Lamentation" by developing software to analyze and project past images of movements that coincide with a live performance. 

The original choreography of "Lamentation" included a dancer being enveloped in a tube-like garment, but Henry transformed this with a technological twist. The dancer in this piece is now separated from the audience by a semicircular translucent screen that doubles as a host for projected archival images. The performances at the CURRENT ArtSpace will mark the first public debut of this innovation. 

"Lamentation" premiered in 1930 and the company has kept many videos that Henry mapped in a software. This software allows the computer to recognize a dancer's movements to screen parallel poses with the live performance that includes improvisation. 

“I hope that people will have an emotional experience with the dance itself but also to have a sense of the history of it,” Henry said. “Using archival material is meant to be a grounding in the present moment because it is a real time software performance happening live, not prerecorded, but at same time there is a historical legacy that speaks to the content of the dance.” 

Souder said the Graham style of dance is angular, dramatic and evokes a deep sense of empowerment. Martha Graham created stories and characters with her dances. She birthed heroines and anti-heroines that continue to impress their power through this long-lasting physical form of activism, Russell said.

Souder said she hopes an active engagement with the poses and the emotional depth of the performances will help spread the beauty of Graham’s work. 

“My mentality on dance in general is that everyone can and should experience the power of physicality with their body and emotions,” Souder said. “Maybe learning a few moves doesn’t feel the same as being on stage, but I hope people can walk away from this feeling like they can better express themselves.”


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