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Hidden treasure revealed

by Michael J. Solender

Hidden treasure revealed

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Picture by Pia Vinson.

January 13, 2013

Editor’s Note: The upcoming performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company is supported in part by Wells Fargo Private Bank, with media partners WDAV and WFAE. The reanimation of Imperial Gesture has been funded through a UNC Charlotte Faculty Research Grant.

A generous grant by the Wells Fargo Private Bank has allowed UNC Charlotte to provide students and first time professional dance patrons with a complimentary performance of the Martha Graham Dance Company on January 17th through a free ticket distribution conducted last fall. According to a report in the Charlotte Observer, the bank’s community affairs manager, Jay Everette, said the idea came from last winter’s free Opera Carolina performances of “Madama Butterfly,” sponsored by the Knight Foundation. The bank hopes people who sample the Graham company will go on to try Charlotte’s N.C. Dance Theatre.”

Martha Graham Dance Company Presented by: UNC Charlotte College of Arts + ArchitectureThursday January 17th and Friday, January 18th, 8:00 pm Knight Theater 430 South Tryon Street Charlotte, NC 28202. More informantion.

Charlotte debut of Martha Graham’s lost 1935 work is reanimated by UNC Charlotte Dance faculty, Kim Jones

Kim Jones’ smile lit up the foyer at University of North Carolina Charlotte’s Robinson Hall as she spoke of her admiration of legendary dancer/choreographer Martha Graham.  Jones, 38, is assistant professor of Dance at UNC Charlotte and almost two years into one of the most challenging and exciting projects of her career. Through the support of a faculty research grant from the university and in partnership with the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Jones is leading a small team of individuals in the reanimation of Graham’s 1935 work, ‘Imperial Gesture’.

“The process of bringing out the beauty in her work is exciting,” said Jones who performed as a dancer with the Martha Graham Company from 2002 to 2006 and remains with the troupe as a “regisseur”, a choreographer who restages productions. “Graham was such a towering figure that her work garners significant attention. This particular piece has not been performed since 1936 and was only ever performed by Graham herself. I feel an enormous responsibility to her legacy in the reanimation.”

Jones is recreating everything from the choreography, costuming, and lighting to the musical score for the work featuring a lone dancer in a flowing sail-like costume that is her “partner” in the five minute dance.  Jones noted the project is receiving a great deal of enthusiasm from the dance community in New York City where she routinely visits to work with Blakeley White-McGuire, the dancer scheduled to perform in the debut at Charlotte’s Knight Theater in January.

There is little wonder those appreciating dance are taking notice.

Dancer of the century

Graham, who died in 1991, enjoyed unparalleled influence on contemporary American dance. She created more than 180 masterwork dance compositions, was the first dancer to perform at the White House, received the Local One Centennial Award for dance by her theater colleagues, awarded only once every 100 years, and was granted the United States’ highest civilian honor, The Medal of Freedom. In 1998, TIME Magazine named her the “Dancer of the Century.”

Graham’s groundbreaking style of dance is characterized by sharp, angular, and direct movements. Her influence is felt well beyond the arena of dance as she collaborated with visual artists and fashion designers including Halston, Donna Karen, and Calvin Klein.

Jones has restaged Graham masterworks before including the 1936 dance “Steps in the Street.” She was the first person to restage Graham’s “Secular Games” outside the United States for the Millennium Dance 2000 in London. Never before, however has she had so little to work with as there are no known film recordings of ‘Imperial Gesture’ or other written documentation such as choreographer’s notes that could serve as guides in recreation.

Jones’ dogged sleuthing, persistent research along with the enlistment of both dance and university colleagues have paid off handsomely.

Jeanmarie Higgins, assistant professor of dramaturgy in UNC Charlotte’s Department of Theater helped Jones discover several written reviews of Graham’s performance of ‘Imperial Gesture.’ Several newspaper notices and accounts of the day available through archival records at the Library of Congress provided Higgins and Jones with specifics about the length of the performance, descriptive narrative regarding movement, and descriptions of the costume including color. Previously unpublished photographs by noted modern dance photographer Barbara Morgan were also obtained providing period background and additional costume detail have been helpful in the restaging according to Jones.

Dance pioneers

“One of our best sources of information came from a pair of dancers who performed with Graham,” said Jones. Ethel Winter, who died in March of 2012, and Linda Hodes both danced with Graham in the 1940s. Jones was fortunate to speak with both dancers in 2010 as she embarked upon the project and gained valuable insight regarding Graham’s approach to this particular piece. Jones remarked that Winter and Hodes were dance pioneers in their own right as performing in Graham’s Company required a discipline and level of sophistication that was unrivaled at the time.

The musical score accompanying Imperial Gesture will be a contemporary approach in keeping with a style that Graham likely would have used. Though Jones doesn’t know exactly the music that accompanied the original work, she is using an arrangement by Pat Daugherty, a Graham collaborator for many years.

Jones is undeniably anxious to see the hard work of all involved realized when the Company performs in Charlotte in January. “I learned so much more about Graham during this process than I ever knew,” said Jones. “ She was complex, in a good way, and used dance as a vehicle to touch upon humanity. She was curious and fierce in pushing boundaries, not simply settling.”

When the full force of Graham’s legacy shines through in the debut of ‘Imperial Gesture’ in Charlotte, we’ll have Kim Jones to thank for that.

**This article first appeared in the January 2013 edition of UCITY Reach


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Tags: Martha Graham Dance, Imperial Gesture, UNCC, Kim Jones, Dance

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