Dance review: Martha Graham Dance Company at South Coast Repertory

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The shock of recognition that Martha Graham and Isamu Noguchi both sought in their work was on view Friday at South Coast Repertory when Martha Graham Dance Company performed three numbers with sets by Noguchi. Presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, the program was part of the JapanOC festival and coincided with the storied troupe’s 85th anniversary.

That shock -- Graham’s profound and textured movement vocabulary seamlessly aligning with the elegant simplicity of Noguchi’s sculptures -- creates a sum grander than its parts. In it we see ourselves, our world, indeed, a sublime aesthetic that yielded a perfect marriage of 22 collaborations.

Noguchi’s striped tree of knowledge and swamp-like platform of reeds set the tone for Graham’s 1958 “Embattled Garden,” which opened the performance (repeated Saturday).

Amusingly seductive, this retelling of events in the Garden of Eden set to Carlos Surinach’s Latin-infused score offered not idols, but imp-like creatures: Adam (Oliver Tobin) and Eve (Mariya Dashkina Maddux), are in a tizzy over two intruders (Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch’s scheming Lilith and Maurizio Nardi’s devilish Stranger). The women shuddered and squirmed; Nardi’s gigantic leaps and breathtaking dexterity were a revelation; Tobin conveyed jaunty machismo in this forbidden fruit dramedy.


From 1946, “Cave of the Heart,” is all blood and guts, jealousy and revenge in Graham’s Medea rendering. Abetted by Samuel Barber’s restless score and Noguchi’s rock-strewn landscape and serpent-spidery dress, the dancers delivered.

Demonically intense, Miki Orihara mesmerized as the wife driven to murder, her razor-sharp emotions climaxing in the famous snakelike solo with its multiple “cave” turns. Katherine Crockett’s chorus proved a study in sorrow and alarm; Tadej Brdnik was a persuasive Jason, and Jacquelyn Elder a sweetly beguiling Princess. After intermission came “Appalachian Spring,” set to Aaron Copland’s ebullient Pulitzer Prize-winning score. It is Graham’s 1944 homage to America’s pioneering spirit, albeit laced with shades of religious zealotry.

With Noguchi’s spare evocation of a homestead, the work featured Blakeley White-McGuire’s Bride and Brdnik’s Husbandman, the pair oozing joy, wonder and wistfulness in their duets and solos. Nardi’s rugged Revivalist dazzled and Crockett’s Pioneering Woman was regal; the four Followers didn’t disappoint.

As the Graham/Noguchi legacy endures, these stellar movers fittingly unleashed the enticing power of great art.

--Victoria Looseleaf


Martha Graham and Isamu Noguchi meshed their contrasting talents

Photos, from top: Martha Graham Dance Company’s Tadej Brdnik and Jacquelyn Elder in ‘Cave of the Heart’ at South Coast Repertory Theater; Miki Orihara. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times