“There is always one person in the audience to whom you speak,” said Richard Move, impersonating the legendary Martha Graham in Wednesday night’s Martha@ TheFisherCenter.Dance lecture and performance.
Move’s appearance in the Winn-Seeley Gym-Theatre was the third lecture in the 2008 Fisher Center Series lectures focused on Animation. Performing as Graham, Move’s performance raised the question, “Who is animating whom?”
Throughout the night, Move elicited everything from chuckles to tears, as he stepped on stage “to celebrate the art form of dance.” Cracking jokes about her age (114 years old), she promised that she will continue to dance, as long as she has an audience to watch her.
After her introduction, Move showed pieces of performances of Martha’s work, including “Appalachian Spring,” the story of a young couple and the excitements and sorrows of love, along with “Frontier,” the story of a girl pirouetting into a new landscape. Interjected with video clips and recordings of Martha’s voice, Move told stories of how the mother of modern dance visited Susie the Monkey for inspiration and had a pet bird named Ethel that needed to dance.
Move then took on Martha as a teacher, drawing out a dancer to show how her technique formed. Using a variety of images to create bodily shapes, Move recreated a class with the movement that Balanchine called “the other classical technique,” the movement that made Martha famous. The audience watched as Martha shouted at her dancer to contract and release, to plié with “diamonds on your collarbones,” and instead of getting bored with repetition, to act as though she was “dancing toward your death.”
Showing how Martha incorporated history into her pieces, Move performed a section from a piece on Mary, Queen of Scots, which takes place before Mary’s execution, as she relives the past. During her “Greek Period,” Move explains “Night Journey,” the story of Oedipus. The piece is full of writhing and tormented movement, as the dancer tells a story of the things we wish to forget.
In her piece on Medea from 1946, “Cave of the Heart” the dancer moves with a snake, following Martha’s directions as she speaks from the corner of the stage. After seeing this dance, the Burmese nicknamed Martha “an elephant gone mad,” an honor that she couldn’t pronounce but adored nonetheless.
For the final movement, Move puts on “Lamentation,” a piece from 1930 that attempts to prove that grief is honorable. With suspended and repetitive movements and a purple body sock, Move touched the audience with his tale of a grieving mother who has lost her son, and who found relief in Martha’s dance.
Moving through the entire spectrum of emotions through his gesture and narrative, Move left the standing-room-only audience in awe.
“He really did Martha, historically and theatrically,” explained Professor of Dance and Associate Dean of Faculty Donna Davenport. “The performance completely captured the divine turbulence in Graham’s work. Graham absorbed emotion and turbulence, being the first ever to turn it into dance – all of which clearly came across in tonight’s performance.”
“At the beginning of the performance, I knew nothing about Martha Graham,” said ballet dancer Lila Feldman ’10 after the performance. “Now I feel like I know and have experienced Graham’s work.”
“The performance was empowering in how it showed the power of women from a male perspective,” explained Trevor Gionet ’12.
“Richard Move truly utilized Martha Graham’s body and movements to become her – I’m truly speechless,” said Meghan Bowden ’11.
Richard started his college education at Hobart College, arriving in 1985, and credits Hobart and William Smith with igniting his passion for dance and remembers fondly his experiences in Bartlett Theater, Winn Seeley, Houghton House. He performed in Koshare Dance Collective, a senior Honor’s Project in Dance for Maura Keefe ’86, and in other dance as well as theater events.
His return to Hobart College is thanks to Professor of Dance Cynthia Williams, who knew his work.