8. In Favor of Homeric Dance

My previous post boasted the vast importance of arts creators such as Shakespeare and Neumeier. The literary and dance worlds are very important joint parts of who I am as a person. Consequently, I find literature and dance connected for all eternity; I like to find similar voices in both realms. So we have Shakespeare who is among the most noted creators of literature. And Neumeier who is among the most unique personalities of contemporary dance and ballet. It makes me excited to be able to spread the knowledge of ties such as theirs, especially in light of big, global events like Shakespeare’s 450 birthday this year.

Now, I want to highlight the intrinsic bonds of ancient Greek literature and dance. I’m in a freshmen philosophy course (grumble…), so this is something I am currently connecting with the past dance history that I am more familiar with, Martha Graham. Her Homeric (what a glorious word!) dances are legendary. Yet, they also faced a grave decent in the recent years. It is interesting history of the past, present, and future of modern dance and this company in particular.

This musing is my quick dedication (although still too long, I need to learn how to condense my musings…) to Graham epics and in favor of the preservation of Homeric dance!

Definition of HOMERIC:
1:  of, relating to, or characteristic of the Greek poet Homer, his age, or his writings
2:  of epic proportions
I think we can all agree that the ancient Greeks know a lot about everything. While they were not the first to discuss and express the importance of the arts, they knew how to document and preserve the arts they worshiped. Art became a central part of their community life, but they also helped spread their arts and the arts of other cultures out into the world. Flash forward to the mid-twentieth century.
Martha Graham comes to me first when I approach the verses of Homer or the lines of Virgil or the words of Euripides. I know many other choreographers and dancers touched on popular ancient Greek literature and myth, and I fully respect them all, but I can’t shake my direct connotation of ancient Greek literature/myth and Graham. She focused most of her Greek works from 1946 to 1963, and the company still has a fascinating connection to these pieces.
Errand Into the Maze, for example wraps itself with Greek drama and relishes in movement that seems handed down from Mount Olympus. This generation of Graham dancers look especially epic in Errand performances (based on videos and photos I’ve seen online, of course). “Loosely derived from the myth of Theseus, who journeys into the labyrinth to confront the Minotaur, this duet sends a woman on the mission. The maze may be her own mind and the confrontation may be with her own fears.” It is the epitome of past modern dance and ancient Homeric mood. And it’s still a shining stable in the current Martha Graham Dance Company.

Earlier this year, “the company Graham founded almost 88 years ago began its season at City Center with a gala celebrating the connection between her and Greece.” Constant absorbing and exposing of the ancient Greek classics in dance is important for a generation so wrapped up in the new myths and legends of the times. From Leia Skywalker to Katniss Everdeen, Lestat to Aang, the media still uses Homeric devices to shape characters, and current/future dance should not shy away from using them, too.

I know that Errand Into the Maze was entirely a Graham creation that couldn’t be tackled by any other choreographer past or future. However, I also know that classical modern dance isn’t as overbearing and limiting as some might assume it to be. When hurricane Sandy damaged a large amount of the Graham collection in 2012, the modern dance world further divided into those who wanted to preserve and perform Graham’s history and those who wanted to move on and evolve from Graham’s history. It was kind of discouraging to see many great critics and researchers of dance dissolve the company because they hadn’t been so successful in the box office prior to Sandy. But the MGDC did come together and was accepted once again into museum exhibits and web page discussion, how can the company survive and thrive?

Mr. Macaulay wrote that Graham’s Greek dances are “absurd” in today’s world and that “they need a rare blaze to redeem them now.” (Naturally, the wise old man feels that the company “is growing quainter and quainter.”) I defend the MGDC with fierce Homeric pride, that rare blaze is alive in many of the company’s young dancers, for instance. The newest addition of Echo to the MGDC’s touring repertory is a golden sign for me. Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis has twisted the myth of Echo and Narcissus with a rendition for contemporary times. This new work along with the classic Graham Greek dances makes the MGDC  anything but “absurd” or “quaint.” It makes them Homeric, heroic, grand, and bold.


I love seeing innovative contemporary ballet because it still lends itself to classical ballet of the past. And contemporary dance is definitely married to classical modern dance; therefore, keeping the Homeric dance tradition alive is important. I’m going to see the MGDC in Austin later this month, so I hope to add on to this musing with a review of how the company performed live.

O Terpsichore, I am optimistic!


(Addition, my personal favorite Homeric piece and Homeric character, Cassandra)

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