Interview: Artistic Director, Janet Eilber of MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE COMPANY and Upcoming Season at The Joyce Theater

Interview of Artistic Director, Janet Eilber of Martha Graham Dance Company

By: Apr. 06, 2023
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Interview: Artistic Director, Janet Eilber of MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE COMPANY and Upcoming Season at The Joyce Theater

The world-renowned Martha Graham Dance Company returns to The Joyce Theater with three exciting programs from April 18 to April 30. The season features world premieres by Baye & Asa and Annie Rigney, Hofesh Shechter's high-energy CAVE, and the mesmerizing Canticle for Innocent Comedians, a multi-choreographer work directed by Sonya Tayeh featuring an original score by jazz great Jason Moran. With their stunning mid- century sets by Isamu Noguchi, Graham's masterworks Cave of the Heart and Embattled Garden return to the stage along with her earliest comedy, Every Soul is a Circus, and the modernist ritual Dark Meadow Suite.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing the Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Janet Eilber. She gave us fascinating insights about her career, the Company and the season ahead at Joyce Theater.

Eilber has been Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, School, and Archives since 2005. Her direction has focused on creating new forms of audience access to the Graham masterworks. These initiatives include contextual programming, educational, and cultural partnerships, licensing of the Graham classics, use of new media and technology, commissions for today's top choreographers and unusual creative events. Earlier in her career, Eilber worked closely with Martha Graham. She danced many of Graham's greatest roles, had roles created for her by Graham, and was directed by Graham in most of the major roles of the repertory. She soloed at the White House, was partnered by Rudolf Nureyev, starred in three segments of Dance in America, and has since taught, lectured, and directed Graham ballets internationally. Apart from her work with Graham, Eilber has performed in films, on television, and on Broadway directed by such greats as Agnes deMille and Bob Fosse and has received four Lester Horton Awards for her reconstruction and performance of seminal American modern dance. She served as Director of Arts Education for the Dana Foundation, guiding the Foundation's support for Teaching Artist training and contributing regularly to its arts education publications. Eilber is a Trustee Emeritus of the Interlochen Center for the Arts. She is married to screenwriter/director John Warren, with whom she has two daughters, Madeline and Eva.

When did you first realize your penchant for dance?

I think my story is very similar to many others. At 5 or 6 years old, I saw a ballerina on TV and told my mother I wanted to do that. I was very fortunate that she enrolled me at a studio run by Rose Marie Floyd in Detroit. I got several years of excellent ballet training followed by immersive training in ballet and modern techniques during my High School years at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Northern Michigan, which did an excellent job of preparing me for the next steps at Juilliard.

What first attracted you to the Martha Graham Company and its technique?

At first, I wasn't attracted to it at all! I was required to take Graham Technique as part of my program as a freshman at the Juilliard School. And I found it so difficult that I skipped class and did everything I could to avoid it. It wasn't until the following year when I was cast in the beautiful Graham classic Diversion of Angels that the lightbulb went off, and I realized the incredible expressive power of the Graham vocabulary. It engages you completely - body, mind and heart. And gives you opportunities to express yourself in the most personal ways while bringing the iconic Graham roles to life.

Can you tell us about some of the highlights of working directly with Martha Graham and performing her choreographies including ones that were created for you?

Part of Martha Graham's genius was that she could recognize who you are, and what you are thinking by just watching you walk across the room. One of my favorite memories is from one of my first rehearsals with Martha. She literally told me I had to get my head on straight. I had a favorite pose -- a tip of the head that I thought was especially effective. She recognized it immediately as a default position. Something I did with no thought behind it -meaningless. She wanted my head to be connected to the power of my spine, and she expected the angle to be considered and intentional. She taught me to be sure I was projecting exactly what I intended. That's a lesson for onstage and in life in general.

Interview: Artistic Director, Janet Eilber of MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE COMPANY and Upcoming Season at The Joyce Theater

(Dark Meadow Suite, Photo by Brigid Pierce)

Do you have any advice for people who seek a career in dance?

Young dancers who aspire to be in the Martha Graham dance company, or in any company for that matter, should look at the current artists, dancers they admire, and learn from them. Our dancers not only study the Martha Graham technique. Each of them has other preparations, studies and interests that make them the artists that they are. And they're all on Instagram! It's easy to learn more about how today's top artists approach their art form, as well as how they ensure their physical and mental well-being. If you aspire to working beside our company members, they themselves are a great guide as to what will be expected of you.

The education program at Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance is outstanding. What would you like our readers to know about it?

We want people to know that we consider the Graham Technique to be the basis of a dance education that can go in any direction. Graham's physical vocabulary is foundational to all dance, really. It gives you strength, power and enormous expressivity. We also offer a variety of classes in other styles, as well as supportive studies such as dance history, anatomy, and music for dance. Graduates of our School have a great variety of careers. Some dancers join other companies, here and abroad, some dance on Broadway. Prominent choreographers and actors have come out of the Graham School, and graduates of our excellent pedagogy course have gone on to teach around the world.

We have admired many of the new choreographies that you have commissioned by talented individuals. Why do you think that these works have been so important to the dance community?

Commissioning new works is one of the most important ways that we reframe and offer new ways to understand the Graham Classics. I specifically commission talented choreographers who work in a completely different style from Graham. I don't need works that are Grahamesque. And when we put these new works onstage with the Graham classics, we find that a great conversation is set up - a conversation that spans decades! The new dances bring fresh eyes and today's perspective to the classics, and the Graham works bring an historical background and the legacy of the art form to the new works.

The season ahead at Joyce Theater promises to be an exciting one. What would you like patrons to know about the shows?

We have a total of thirteen choreographers represented in our programs at the Joyce! Each program offers a combination of Graham classics and a range of new works. You can see some of the greatest Graham masterworks, such as Embattle Garden and Cave of the Heart with their extraordinary sets by Isumu Noguchi, beside our world premieres by Annie Rigney and Baye & Asa. CAVE, the amazing work by Hofesh Shechter that we premiered in 2022 returns as does Canticle for Innocent Comedians that was created by lead choreographer Sonya Tayeh with Alleyne Dance, Robert Cohan, Juliano Nunes, Yin Yue, Martha Graham, Micaela Taylor and Jenn Freemen! It has a fantastic score by jazz great Jason Moran.

Anything else, absolutely anything you'd like to add!

Our dancers are extraordinary! They are superb in any physical vocabulary -- from Graham to Gaga -- while being incredibly articulate and expressive performers. I can promise that they will amaze and impress you beyond expectations!

The Martha Graham Dance Company will perform their spring season from April 18 to April 30 at The Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave, New York, NY 10011. Performances include Program A, Program B, Program C as well as the Special Gala Performance, University Partners Showcase, and a Family Matinee. For ticketing and more information, please visit

Follow the Martha Graham Dance Company on social media: Instagram: @marthagrahamdance;
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Photo Credit: Headshot of Janet Eilber (c) NYC Dance Project / Ken Browar and Deborah Ory

Photo Credit: Dark Meadow Suite by Brigid Pierce.