11. Elegy to My Dancing Past and Present Through Graham [Pre-Show Musing]

“The Graham dancers were continuations of the genius of Martha beyond her own body.”   – Walter Terry, Frontiers of Dance: The Life of Martha Graham

PeiJu Chien-Pott

This is a post that I am dreading; I don’t want to write this one. Because once I do, the night will really be over.

That is how much the Martha Graham Dance Company touched me tonight. I’ve only ever felt this after seeing the premier of Houston Ballet’s Marie. And yet, even that was a watered down reaction to how much this feels right now (although Marie is not any less important to me).

Martha Graham Dance Company under the direction of Janet Eilber performed Appalachian Spring, Lamentation Variations, Errand into the Maze (Updated), and Echo at Bass Concert Hall at UT Austin. The pre-autumn Texas night was breezy then balmy, and the crowd was charged with energy.

I will try to limit this one musing and not go too much into the details of each piece… which will be tough. I really just want to convey how much I advocate this company, and dance history in general. Might turn into a two-parter…

When Martha said “Movement never lies,” she was talking about emotional truth. . . Martha’s particular artistic contribution is strongly emotionally-centred. It was inherent in Martha’s nature.   -Erick Hawkins, Goddess: Martha Graham Dancers Remember by Robert Tracy


Here is my pre-show musing, written in my lavender moleskin:

I’m sitting on a wobbly bench on the second floor of the Winship. A building I lived in for a few days during this year’s ACDFA; it’s already powdered with my dance-dust memories. Loud, exuberant theater majors are downstairs (naturally overtaking the entire space) and peaceful, exploring dance majors are in the windowed studio next to me. And I have on my lap The Notebooks of Martha Graham. Circa 1973. Here we are today, 2014, about to welcome the MGDC to the Bass Hall in less than two hours.

Some important numbers to keep in mind, this is MGDC’s 88th year and Appalachian Spring‘s 70th birthday.

Looking through these thick pages of Graham notes, I realize that all of my training, all of my study, and physical expansion in the past 5 years will amount to this night. Seeing this company perform live is monumental for me. For one, let’s face it, I won’t be in NYC anytime soon, and even if I were there, how would I come up with the ticket cost of well over $50 for a good seat. (Who would want to watch Graham from the nose-bleeds? Not hearing the inhales and exhales?!) My good seat for tonight cost $10! THANK YOU, UT AUSTIN STUDENT FUND!

So, this night is important, let me make that extremely clear. And not like Houston Ballet important. It’s a different internal embrace of my undergraduate dance studies in both San Jac and Texas State. I don’t get a lot of that from my personal friends, unfortunately, because they favor parenthood and paychecks over dance degrees and performance opportunities.


I’ve wrapped this night up in a veil of spiritual dedication to Martha Graham’s linage. Graham was married to and danced with Erick Hawkins. Hawkins was the teacher of the fundamentals used at Texas State and personally taught two professors who are now at Texas State. The line is unbroken; this is a very rare and cherished history to make note of since many disciples of ballet have to dig-dig-dig to get their linage back to the start of ballet. Graham was the start of American modern dance. (St.Denis, Fuller, and Duncan did not leave a large enough training ground to be directly followed like Graham was).

I was taught Hawkins fundamentals from a woman who trained under Hawkins himself, who was then in turn intensely connected to Graham herself. The historical dance thread from me to Graham is far but it is still connected to her, the starting point of modern dance in America.

Back to the book, in this heavy tome I find Graham swiftly wrote down her words onto the paper, thankfully not destroying it, and provided clues into the mystique of Graham as a person and creator. She didn’t like to think of herself as a choreographer, so I respect that she created rather than choreographed, which in some way makes sense.

The book shows influences that were lucky enough to have seeped into her creations, which makes me start to think about how all dancers and choreographers of the past and present and future “steal” from the collective.  It’s so interesting that a lot of dancers embrace this. Yes, there are feuds and fierce trademark/copyright laws for some, (Graham did convince every media personnel to shun Hawkins after their bitter divorce) but a lot of dancers really relish sharing and growing together. I don’t see this in, say, the music industry. Especially rap and hip-hop right now; the claiming of “I’m the realest” is such a trend, for instance.

5418d706c9cb6.imageSome words jump out from her noted section of Errand into the Maze: the dancer, the creator, the prophetess, the young, the beloved, the goddess, the courtesan. These characters, words, archetypes describe a wealth of women, and men, still present in this world. After the death of Graham, many feared her successors and the batches of company members to come. I do not fear tonight. I’m intrigued to see dancers of this revamped company expose these words out to the audience of today. To students, perhaps most importantly.

So tonight I will see Appalachian Spring, Lamentation Variations, Errand into the Maze (Updated), and Echo. The company is a new breed of movers. The venue is a large glass building in a city I’ve come to loath and love. Already it doesn’t feel unnatural or outdated or kitschy as some critics of the new MGDC feel. Instead, I am filled with pre-show jitters. Rich, historic beauty that I’ve been studying for 5 years is about to be performed before my hazel eyes and I’m exploding from my heart.

To be continued…….

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