Composer Augusta Read Thomas And Choreographer Troy Schumacher Present World Premiere Work For Martha Graham Dance Company
Peak Performances presents the Martha Graham Dance Company, comprising the "most skilled and powerful dancers you can ever hope to see" (The Washington Post), dancing the revolutionary choreographer's Appalachian Spring. The company celebrates the 75th anniversary of this enduringly powerful work with a dynamic, lyrical new dance that resonates with Graham's classic: Peak Performances commission The Auditions, choreographed by Troy Schumacher to an original score by composer Augusta Read Thomas, and performed by seven Martha Graham Dance Company members.
The International Contemporary Ensemble, "America's foremost new-music group" (Alex Ross, The New Yorker), joins the Graham Company for world-class renditions of new music by Thomas and the original Pulitzer Prize-winning score for Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland. The ensemble will be conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni. Performances will take place November 14-17 at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University.
Appalachian Spring, created in 1944 amidst a war that had torn many couples apart, follows a young 19th century frontier couple on their wedding day, imagining a dreamlike idyll of simplicity and togetherness. Springtime in the wilderness is celebrated by this man and woman building a house with joy and love and prayer; by a revivalist and his followers in their shouts of exaltation; and by a pioneering woman with her dreams of the Promised Land. Graham's choreography references American folk dance, Aaron Copland infuses his score with elements of Shaker song, and a Shaker-inspired rocking chair stands out on Isamu Noguchi's angular minimalist set. In the world premiere performance of the dance at the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress in 1944, Graham and Erick Hawkins danced the parts of The Bride and The Husbandman, Merce Cunningham played the The Preacher, and May O'Donnell was The Pioneering Woman. The New York Times called the dance "shining and joyous...a kind of testimony to the simple fineness of the human spirit."
Martha Graham Dance Company Artistic Director Janet Eilber says of Appalachian Spring, "During the dark days of WWII, Copland and Graham were interested in representing the essential elements of America and of our democracy. They wanted to create a dance/drama that celebrated our optimism, yes, but also our belief in a system in which every person has a voice, every person is offered opportunity, and every person has hope-the American Dream. While details and specific issues of these conversations may have changed over the years - from McCarthyism to #metoo - the essential American tenets are the same. I believe this is why Appalachian Spring has traveled through time so beautifully and speaks to today's America just as it did 75 years ago."
In conceiving The Auditions, Troy Schumacher and Augusta Read Thomas took as their starting point Appalachian Spring's portrayal of longing for the unknown. The Auditions takes place in two worlds-one grounded, one ethereal, as people gathered in a room audition to progress to what is perhaps another plane of existence.
Troy Schumacher says, "I too come from an arts organization (NYCB) that was founded by an artistic force whose presence still lingers over and influences everything decades after their passing. Janet inspired me to communicate with the Graham legacy in both historically respectful and forward-looking ways, which is, in my opinion, exactly how it should be done. Appalachian Spring looks at pioneers in historical America, and touches on both what it feels like to be settled in a new place and how the yearning for exploration continues. The Auditions is about a group of people in the present looking to be pioneers who are unsure of where they are going or how and why they will get there."
Augusta Read Thomas says, "Troy and I collaborated closely for 18 months on the creation of this artwork. At every level, we are concerned with transformations and connections. The Auditions unfolds a labyrinth of musical and movement interrelationships and connections that showcase the dancers and musicians in a virtuosic display of rhythmic agility, counterpoint, skill, energy, dynamic range, clarity and majesty. We worked hard to ensure that the music dances and that the dance is musical. I like my music to feel organic, self-propelled - as if we listeners are overhearing (capturing) an un-notated, spontaneously embodied improvisation."
Ross Karre, International Contemporary Ensemble percussionist and co-artistic director, says, "What we hope to do is draw organic relationships between the dancers' movements and our instrumental performances and also between the two works. What binds us all-across genre, discipline, and time-is respiration. We must breathe. The union of these two disciplines and these two works will be a sequence of interpretations between inhalations and exhalations. The musical manifestation of that is how a musical phrase starts and ends. The physical manifestation is how a gesture starts and ends. Where these elements push, pull, and synchronize is the organic art of interpretation. When the dancers initiate momentum and a violinist retakes their bow to prepare the next moment, we find common ground and allow the piece to grow and develop through our shared air."
ACP Executive Director Jedediah Wheeler says, "For our commission of The Auditions, we were searching for a composer who creates as though she were a choreographer and a choreographer who makes dance steps as though each was a note of music. Together Troy and Gusty have made an American dance born out of our own anxious moment that pays tribute to a seminal work of another time, equally fraught by uncertainty but buoyed by the democracy's unrealized promise. May we all join the conversation with these wonderful artists and extraordinary dancers. I am deeply grateful for Janet Eilber's stellar leadership without which this could not have been realized."
Appalachian Spring (75th-Anniversary Performance) features music by Aaron Copland, a set by Isamu Noguchi, choreography by Martha Graham, costume design by Karen Young, and lighting design by Yi-Chung Chen. Dancers include Anne O'Donnell and Charlotte Landreau (as The Bride); Lloyd Mayor and Jacob Larsen (as The Husbandman); Lloyd Knight and Lorenzo Pagano (as The Preacher); Natasha M. Diamond-Walker and Leslie Andrea Williams (as The Pioneering Woman); and So Young An, Laurel Dalley Smith, Marzia Memoli, and Anne Souder (as The Followers).
The Auditions (World Premiere) features music by Augusta Read Thomas, choreography by Troy Schumacher, costume design by Karen Young, and lighting design by Yi-Chung Chen. Dancers include Lloyd Knight, Charlotte Landreau, Marzia Memoli, Anne O'Donnell, Lorenzo Pagano, Anne Souder, and Leslie Andrea Williams. Both works will be performed by the Martha Graham Dance Company (Janet Eilber, Artistic Director) with International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). Vimbayi Kaziboni will conduct.
Appalachian Spring & The Auditions will take place Thursday, November 14 and Friday, November 15 at 7:30pm; Saturday, November 16 at 8pm; and Sunday November 17 at 3pm at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University (1 Normal Ave, Montclair, NJ). Performances run 50 minutes, plus intermission. Tickets are affordably priced at $30, and can be purchased at www.peakperfs.org or 973.655.5112. Tickets are always free for Montclair State students.
On Friday, November 15, at 6pm, in the Alexander Kasser Theater, there will be a conversation with Neil Baldwin, Professor of Theatre & Dance at Montclair State University, and Janet Eilber, Artistic Director Martha Graham Dance Company.
A First Impressions talk will take place following the performance Saturday, November 16, with Troy Schumacher, Janet Eilber, Augusta Read Thomas, and Vimbayi Kaziboni.
On Sunday, November 17 at 2:00pm, there will be a special reading of the children's book Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan and read by Janet Eilber.